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Ailing ties: A dual citizen's story

July 15, 2013

The morning I found out that the United States’ plans to slash economic aid requests to Pakistan had reached headline news in Karachi, my dad was speaking to me on the phone from New York. On his side at the time, it was American Independence Day, a day filled with barbeque cookouts, porch sit-ins, flags galore and faces gashed with joy as fireworks smear the pitch black skies.

But American Independence also marks a significant day for Pakistan. Ironically on this very day, Pakistan reached its very low in dependence, for it was the day when supply lines were reopened for Nato troops, something that causes many Pakistanis to bitterly recall the incident in Afghanistan that left 24 soldiers dead and many other Pakistanis indignant and humiliated.

“It was a horrible day,” my dad exclaimed, recalling the Nato air strikes, “America has bought out every last bit of integrity Pakistan has ever had with its aid. It feeds corruption, not heal it! You know what? Cut the aid! I’m glad they are doing so! Pakistan needs to learn to stand on its own two feet, for God’s sake!”

Although Pakistan claimed independence in 1947, it has never been the most economically self-sufficient. From its founding, it received a prestigious priority for American aid, wallowing in economic and militaristic assistance for over 60 years and rarely in civilian and public assistance. It was an independent country that hankered for dependence, dependence that rarely expressed gratitude for America’s goodwill efforts because of the persistence of anti-American sentiment.

Because of this, I saw where my dad’s indifference was coming from. It made sense. I, too wanted to be indifferent, I forced every ounce of my being towards the aloof. But something was holding me back. A slight shiver struck my spine as I walked over to my bag and took out two passports: one navy blue American passport, and one murky green Pakistani passport rested in my hands as I paused over the phone to gaze at their cosmopolitan nature.

“Don’t you think these cuts in aid will impact our traveling back and forth ‘cause of the countries drifting in ties?” I asked as I gazed worriedly at my passports.

“No!” he statically stated, “what kind of question is that?!”

It is a question asked by many curious Pakistanis as we speak. Its debate is nothing new but has been rekindled in light of America’s recent cuts. Some say that the implications behind these cuts are somber, symbolising downplay in US-Pakistani relations. Others, like my father, claim that Pakistan-US relations were always superficial, solely relying on economic and militaristic aid and never possessing any long-term benefits in the first place.

Although I partially agree with the latter perspective — for I do feel diplomatic relations have solely been defined by economic and militaristic means rather than goodwill and friendship — I share similar sentiments to those of the former perspective. I cannot help but panic for what these changing ties will do impact dual citizens like myself. What if it becomes harder for me to travel back and forth between the two countries every year? What if there comes a day where I can no longer practice my civilian duties as a Pakistani in conjunction with my duties as an American? Even worse, what if these worsening ties will further darken American perceptions on Pakistanis in general?

Keeping the last question in mind, I am taken aback to incidents and encounters in America that I use to measure these degrading ties.

I do not know if it is just me, but I feel each year, as Pakistan and the United States wrangle, my personal encounters in the United States grow wearier. In airports, TSA questioning gets lengthier, harder, harsher. Rubber gloves slipping my passport into a neon green envelope as if it were evidence from a crime scene, the guards ask me with stern, cold eyes, “Have you ever trained with Islamic militants? Have you ever engaged in suicide combat? Have your friends and family ever participated in anti-American plotting? What is your purpose here in the United States?”

In my college, non-Pakistani friends would swarm around me like honeybees, asking me for my take on what the “current situation” in Pakistan is, what is my prospect on its horrors, or what is the status of my friends and families amidst the danger, just to tacitly make more obvious the ruthless politics of that country, just to infer how such ruthless politics are what largely define the country and its people. At every question, I shudder with shame. How I would steel myself against confrontation. How the anger that would puncture my eyes quickly soften into a broken smile. I am insecure in talking about Pakistan, just like how Pakistan is insecure itself.

My own family is even not an excuse. Relatives sigh in horror at every bomb blast, every indiscriminate murder, and every extremist robbing life with their vitriolic words. They root against their own country with their shame. They mourn the death for a culture that once lived.

Maybe it is just the fatalist in me that is talking here. Maybe my dad is right about Pakistan needing to stand alone. Maybe these cuts in aid and my encounters in United States have no implications on US-Pakistani relations, hence on my dual citizenship what-so-ever. Maybe, as many people like to tell me, I care too much.

Nevertheless, I do care. Being a dual citizen is a rich and complicated opportunity, fraught with many conflicts, risks and benefits. It collapses, but does not necessarily destroy the distance you feel from the countries that have inducted you, in ways that are both freeing, yet confining as well. But this confinement is what deepens you as an observer and thinker, creates complex influences and provides a kaleidoscope of perspectives with colors you must bear with care in your life. It is a burden that is an honor to bear. That honor is precisely what defines global citizenship. I really do hope US-Pakistani relations do not burn to a cinder so that I can continue to practice such global citizenship and perhaps someday use it to contribute to a healthier, more prosperous bilateral relationship.