Overseas Pakistanis have been comingunder some stick recently. The Election Commissions recent decisionthat dual nationals will not be allowed to contest the upcomingelections has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
The current PPP government firstsuggested allowing overseas Pakistanis to caste votes a couple ofyears ago and a consultation process was initiated. Recently, the PTImoved a petition in the Supreme Court, calling on it to allowoverseas Pakistanis to vote.
So on the one hand, votes count butstanding in the same elections is to be allowed.
A question of patriotism
Living overseas is enough for onespatriotism to be questioned. Having a second nationality doesn’thelp ones cause either. Some people say that,
“if you want to join politics, andserve Pakistan then giving up a second passport is a small thing toask”
Perhaps, but what happens if you standin elections and don’t win? No one is going to compensate you if one fails. At the same time its also a small thing to ask for voters of a constituency not to vote for such an individual if they consider his or her second nationality unappealing.
Fast track corruption
The second line of argument goessomething like:
“All these dual nationals can packup and leave whenever they like. They line their pockets and leave”
Does that mean that people who haveonly Pakistani nationality are less corrupt? Or conversely, does thismean that overseas Pakistanis, because they presumably havethe opportunity to dabble in corruption are necessarily corrupt?Essentially, they are being accused of being petty opportunists.
Thesecond argument that they can pack up and leave is the one that Ifind most frustrating. Yes, I guess, people with second passports canleave when they like. But then again, politicians in Pakistan , giventheir social and economic status in the country are also quite mobileinternationally. To think that the colour of their passport effectstheir mobility to the same degree as the average Pakistani is a grossexaggeration.
Ifpeople are behaving in a corrupt manner, they do so because they areconfident that they can get away with it. They weigh the pros andcons and realise that the benefits of behaving in a corrupt manner isgreater than the perceived risk or costs. The nationality of theindividual is inconsequential to the extent that a foreign passportdoes not give an individual immunity when prosecuted for a crime. Thefact that a Pakistani, overseas Pakistani or dual national knows thathe or she can get away with a crime in the first place determines hisor her ability to indulge in illegal activity. A second passport maybe a convenience, however, its the system that is at fault, not theindividual.
Men and women of a lesser God
Now when it comesto overseas Pakistanis, not all overseas Pakistanis are equal.
The vast majorityconstitute Pakistani labourers, who toil away in the Gulf, NorthAfrica and to a lesser degree in places such as Malaysia. Now theseworkers, who primarily leave Pakistan in search of work, save a highpropensity of their income. In doing so, they remit most of it.Thankfully, due to their efforts over the past few years, Pakistanhas managed to contain its Current Account deficit given the massiveinflows from such workers.
On the flip side,these overseas Pakistanis are the ones that are conveniently ignored.Before our grand Arab masters, the Pakistani state is unable orunwilling to voice any concern over the treatment that is meted outto them. For example, the seizing of labourers passports
in the Gulfis a common practise which breaks the International Covenant on Civiland Political Rights. The city state of Dubai, which effectively wentbankrupt a year and a half ago, saw many managers and business ownersleave the city in a rush. In doing so, they left without returningpassports to labourers or clearing their wages. What did thegovernment of Pakistan offer to such workers? Nothing. The BBC’s Panorama looks at migrant workers in the UAE:
I dont even blamethe government for such inaction. Dubai and the wider Gulf region hasbecome a playground for the upper-middle and upper economic class ofthe country. The same people who buy second homes, work in managerialpositions and enjoy vacations in these cities have no qualms aboutenjoying the fruits of the mass, systematic exploitation of theirfellow countrymen in a foreign land, while complaining aboutcorruption and injustice in Pakistan itself.
Return toPakistan, and its these same labourers who are welcomed by rentseeking customs and immigration officials. When these same Pakistanisleave the country, they have to pay of immigration officials due tothe “protector law”
No, these overseasPakistanis, have little hope of support from their host governmentsor their governments, but nevertheless the Pakistani state isgrateful for their remittances. Effectively, the savings of poorlabourers overseas, cross subsidises the tax dodging opulence of thePakistani upper class, for without their remittances, the Pakistanieconomy would be in a much, much worse state at present.
Giving thesePakistanis the right to vote is little consolation given theinjustice and exploitation they face. However, when we talk about overseas Pakistanis, we are not thinking about the poor labourers. Instead, we are looking at those living in the West. For they, supposedly have sold their souls to a foreign master. However, the Pakistani state selling Pakistanis into second class citizenship in the Arab world is well…just brotherly relations.
The “Western” Pakistanis
No, the problemsand the question of loyalty really comes up when we talk aboutPakistanis who have dual nationality with Western countries.Pakistani-Brits, Pakistani-Americans etc. Another point thatPakistani commentator like to take up over and over again is to quotethe American oath of allegiance. In all its glory:
I hereby declare, on oath, that Iabsolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance andfidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty ofwhom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that Iwill support and defend the Constitution and laws of the UnitedStates of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that Iwill bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will beararms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that Iwill perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the UnitedStates when required by the law; that I will perform work of nationalimportance under civilian direction when required by the law; andthat I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation orpurpose of evasion; so help me God.
People complain that how can someonewho has taken this oath be patriotic towards or have Pakistan’s best interest at heart? That is utternonsense. We live in a globalised world where people move not becauseof changing nationalistic sentiments, but because of economicopportunity or familial pressure. If someone takes this oath thatdoes not make them any more American or any less Pakistani. If youbelieve that this is infact the case, then you should also believethat when a girl marries a boy and moves to her boys household, herlove for her parents and siblings is compromised. You then, shouldalso believe that if a non-Muslim, in school in Pakistan, happens tosit through an Urdu class and comes across a chapter related to Islamand reads through it, he or she will become more Muslim and his orher faith in their religion is also compromised.
Why do British-Pakistanis supportPakistan in a England vs. Pakistan cricket match? I am sure they havesand God Save the Queen at some point in their life or attended acivics class in school?
I am not saying that overseasPakistanis will always be patriotic towards Pakistan. I am sure theyare now third or even fourth generation British or AmericanPakistanis, who probably have no link with Pakistan at all and noattachment. However, what I do disagree with are the nonsensicalarguments that are made to disenfranchise overseas Pakistanis.
Citizenship for another age
The primary function of oaths andcitizenship was to make sure that they were always men that could becalled upon to fight a war if need be. Through conscription,individuals could be drafted into military service. However, Pakistandoesn’t draft citizens into the military. And we are not fightingbattles for local chieftains (or are we?).
The issue here isn’t about the colour ofones passport.
To move beyond questioning onespatriotism, same sensible rules can be established for overseasPakistanis who may want to participate in elections.
More important than citizenship isresidency. For example, the UK along with many EU countries allow non-EU citizensto vote in local or city elections. An overseas Pakistani may beasked to reside in Pakistan for a qualifying period before beingallowed to stand for office. He or she should make a declaration ofincome and assets, and if liable show a history of paying taxes inPakistan.
The issue here is not about excludingindividuals from running from office. The issue here is thatconstituents are being deprived of choice on the ballot. If thevoters of X, Y or Z want to vote for an overseas Pakistani that’stheir choice. What however, needs to be discouraged is for potentialcandidates not declaring dual citizenship, not because there issomething wrong in having a second passport, but because that mayraise questions on what else he or she is hiding.
In afuture post I hope to talk about the economics of overseas Pakistanisand the role immigration plays in supporting our economy. However, interms of politics, disenfranchising individuals should not be ourgoal, to serve some warped understanding of patriotism. On the one handlobbying for overseas Pakistanis to vote, while denying them theright to stand in the same elections is setting dual standards anddenies voters a full spectrum of choice.