Things are bad in Pakistan. We have an exploding population, failing infrastructure, little hope for basic amenities or employment for the bulk of our people, a terrible law and order situation and rising militancy. So who do we blame? In reality, this is the result of a series of bad decisions and incompetence on the part of the military and civilian apparatus that has governed Pakistan over the years. However, it is far easier to scapegoat a small group rather than analyse the failings of entrenched powers. So we have decided that if only we rid ourselves of dual national parliamentarians, we will purge ourselves of those with dubious loyalty and be well on our way to progress.
We are nevertheless confused if applying this rule simply to parliamentarians will do the trick, or if we need to extend it to judges, bureaucrats, army officers and the like. At the same time, we also keep reminding our dual nationals abroad that their money is welcome in Pakistan and we may also give them the vote. It’s just that if they ever decide to contest for the legislature then their loyalty becomes an issue. Could there be a more hypocritical position?
Different countries deal with dual nationality differently. Some disallow it altogether, others discourage it and still others celebrate it. Of those that allow it, the UK and Canada come to mind as very open and comfortable with the concept, with Canada even boasting a prime minister who had dual nationality. Nevertheless, before we look to other countries, we need to recognise that few countries are as dependent on dual nationals as Pakistan. Not only in terms of much-needed remittances but also funding and expertise for all major philanthropic projects in Pakistan are inextricably linked to support from its dual nationals abroad.
Because this has become such an emotive subject, the media largely plays to the gallery and it is impossible to hear the other side, at least on the electronic medium. I will attempt to dispel some of the fallacious claims that have been made regarding dual nationals in these pages. First, a big deal has been made of the fact that in order to become a US citizen a person must take an oath and pledge to bear arms for the US. Of the many Pakistanis that have dual American and Pakistani citizenships has any ever borne arms against Pakistan? I can’t even think of one. However, I can unfortunately think of many single national Pakistanis who have killed Pakistanis in our bazaars and shrines, kidnapped them and looted them at gunpoint, raped women and abducted children. Curiously, however, I can also think of a dual national called Faisal Shahzad, who in spite of the oath, took up arms, not against Pakistan but against the US itself. This, too, is regrettable as violence in all its forms must be condemned, but the point is that a bureaucratic oath doesn’t suddenly reshape allegiances.
Second, much is made of the fact that remittances from the Middle East are greater than those from the West and the Middle East does not allow dual nationality. According to the Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), the remittances from the Middle East stand at 58 per cent. Thus, 42 per cent come from the West, which is nearly half. Moreover, the number of Pakistanis in the Middle East is many times that in the West so per person remittance is far higher from the West. In addition, it is incorrect to assume that everyone in the Middle East is a single national or that everyone in the West is a dual national. In fact, those with some of the best jobs in the Middle East who transfer the greatest amounts are often dual nationals of the US, the UK or Canada. Also very relevant is the fact that since the Middle East does not allow Pakistani charities to establish offices as the West does, organisations such as the Edhi Foundation, Citizen’s Foundation, Developments in Literacy and others are overwhelmingly remitting from the West. Hence, it would not be incorrect to assume that while remittances from the Middle East go largely to families, those from the West often go to philanthropic ventures.
Third, it is preposterous to assume that dual nationals only live abroad. Many reside in Pakistan and have done so for years. Others have moved back recently. Their contributions are even more valuable in terms of providing key expertise as lawyers, doctors, dentists, etc. Dual national doctors have served as senior bureaucrats in public hospitals in Pakistan very effectively. If we decide that it is kosher for them to do private practice in Pakistan and serve the rich but not work in public hospitals, we will only be discriminating against the poor.
Finally, much is made of the idea that a dual national will leave Pakistan if the country is in trouble. If this is true, then it will apply equally to those who are permanent residents of other countries, of which we have many more than simply dual nationals, who incidentally may not have taken an oath but have registered an intent to migrate to a foreign country. Moreover, these days anyone with money can easily get residency in another country whether it is Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, the US, the UK or the United Arab Emirates.
We need to stop demonising groups and start building Pakistan. Prominent political scientist Robert Dahl measures the effectiveness of a democracy on two dimensions — contestation and inclusiveness. While Pakistan may rank quite high on contestation since we openly condemn our leaders as “corrupt and traitorous”, we rank abysmally low on inclusiveness. It is very difficult to break down the barriers to entry in traditional Pakistani politics. Some who may have overcome this may in fact be dual nationals as they would have had to leave the country to make their money and gain enough expertise to be valued by the traditional setup. Alienating this self-made group would be counter-productive. Dual nationals who have effectively been funding all major charities in Pakistan and single nationals who have worked in the field, at times risking their lives to do so, must work together to overcome our grave problems. Let’s not doubt each other’s loyalty but deliver for the masses that have so little.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2012.