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Ailing ties: A dual citizen's story

Published Jul 15, 2013 02:23pm


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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.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (39) Closed

Feroz Jul 15, 2013 04:18pm

Do you call yourself Indian when asked where you are from ?

Tariq Jul 15, 2013 04:48pm

Indeed Pakistan would be a much better place in the long run without the US-Aid which is mostly rendered in military hardware. We should learn to stand on our own feet without reliance on others as all aid usually comes with strings attached. Sixty six years since independence look where we are among the comity of nations today?

Thommu Jul 15, 2013 05:26pm

If you do not care for US why should you keep your citizenship? There are many like me who like the freedom and liberty offered by a society where church( read religion) is constitutionally separate from government. I value my green card and do not consider the nation a milch cow.

Yousuf Jul 15, 2013 06:03pm


don't you feel America has played a very negative role inside Pakistan. Their constant interference in our country and globally has made world very insecure place to live in. I am not Islamist and I do not support Taliban. Infact I believe Al Qaeda was and still is a just product of CIA.

I hope America stop their evil activities of funding Islamist inside Pakistan and of supporting Saudi Arabia. Then after I could wish America and Pakistan to live in peace and harmony.

Md Imran Jul 15, 2013 06:58pm

Foreign aid is to show the domestic players how poor we are. The truth is, an average Pakistani is probably one of the wealthiest in Asia, maybe behind oil producing ummah nations and Japan, but ahead of everyone else. The household wealth in Pakistan is immense, and we can run the country without foreign aid for the next 300 years. We dont need any aid. If it is indeed aid, then Pakistan should ask ummah nations for help and not western ones. Our politicians have sold our integrity and diginity for a song.

Syeed Jul 15, 2013 07:14pm

US constitution does not recognize dual citizenship. US citizenship requires to pledge allegiance to US constitution. However, it does not require you to renounce your current/native citizenship. If US ignores it's citizens uses of another country's passport that does not mean it has granted dual citizenship. People are fooling themselves by calling it a dual citizenship.

Pakistanis are living in a folly of dual citizenship, while India requires you renounce Indian citizenship when you acquire citizenship of another country and you cannot legally maintain an Indian passport in parallel to passport of any other country.

Muneer bhai Jul 15, 2013 07:50pm

Oh please this is hardly an issue except for a few elites.

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Jul 15, 2013 07:53pm

Excellent write-up! As a Canadian-Pakistani I still feel that Pakistan's economic and political conditions can improve in the long run. It is important, however, that we separate the practice of religion from the governance of the State

Asif A. Shah Jul 15, 2013 08:10pm

You are a citizen of the country on whose passport you travel and get entries and exits stamped. I hope Dr. Tahir ul Qadri who made thousands of ignorant Pakistani shiver in the open grounds of Islamabad under so called slogan of March On Islamabad for the implementation of the Constitution before Election would have understood that as well. How could Pakistani follow him when he was a Canadian citizen? Asif

AHA Jul 15, 2013 09:05pm

@Md Imran: "The household wealth in Pakistan is immense, and we can run the country without foreign aid for the next 300 years."

Why not 400 years... or 500?

One thing we are really good at is raising slogans. In any case, we do not believe in reality checks.

A. Souza Jul 15, 2013 09:18pm

I cannot understand when someone stays in an adopted nation and denonces its policies etc. You can't keep your cake and eat it too. You left your homeland for the your adopted nation because you wanted to live a better place. That's what most reasonable people do. I take they knew what the general policy of their new homeland is. Yet when they arrive in their new home they continue their bickering that they started long before arriving only this time targeting their adopted state. Go back and make Pakistan a better place.

AekE Jul 15, 2013 09:27pm

Zinda Bhag

kdp Jul 15, 2013 09:45pm

@Md Imran: You should be appointed to the position of President or certainly for Finance Minister of Pakistan

Mirza Jul 15, 2013 10:14pm

@Muneer bhai: Shame on you .....these ppl are not elite...they are middle class generation who went their, work day and night and sending millions of dollars back to Pakistan which fuels country economy....Its good to have some knowledge of the issue before you comment.

Mirza Jul 15, 2013 10:19pm

@Syeed: If you carry passport of two different countries you are dual national. Nothing matters how US Constitution define dual national or what India or Eriteria expecting from their citizens.

naghman qureshi Jul 15, 2013 10:30pm

i heard that in case of dual citizen,you will be judged in pakistan under its cannot ask u.s or other gov. for help.

Zubair Jul 16, 2013 01:04am

Bilateral relationship; to improve? How come a relationship between a master and a slave be bilateral and on equal grounds? Do not forget the rule: Might is Right is still valid in this so called civilized world. Pakistan do not need any foreign aid. To get rid of the so called 'aids' is the first step towards being a proud and an independent nation. We need to fix our home grown problems lest blame other nations. Pakistan should not allow dual nationalities. It is just being used for other purposes with no benefit to a common man.

Nauman A. Jul 16, 2013 01:07am

Thank you Sophia Chawala for an interesting piece. As a non-US regular reader of, I recently came across one person write about his country of abode Canada and / or US as follows:

"Today, the city I live in here has a murder rate 5 times that of miserable Karachi - I was held at gun-point last summer at a gas station. Crime against property is rampant in every large metropolis

M.Ali Jul 16, 2013 02:04am


Though India does not allow dual nationality still she provides huge special privileges and benefits to overseas Indians through OCI card that is in may ways very close to or comparable to dual nationality.

abc Jul 16, 2013 02:50am

@Jalaluddin S. Hussain: how can you distinguish between the two. wher one in man made and the other is the word of god.

abc Jul 16, 2013 02:55am

@Md Imran: absolutely true. The Ummah is alwys there for Pakistan, if and whenever it needs it. Otherwise, Pakistan is one of the most wealthiest nations in the world.

Danish S. Jul 16, 2013 03:12am

I am also one of those so-called "dual-citizens." Honestly, I consider myself to be a 100% American. The only reason I would not renounce my Pakistani citizenship is because it makes it easier to travel, although I have not been to Pakistan in almost a decade. And more importantly, out of respect for the place where my parents, grandparents grew up and where I spend the first few years of my life. I might be bias, but I think America owes Pakistan nothing, and Pakistan and Pakistanis are a bunch of thankless, whiny, ignorant leaches (harsh I know and it doesn't apply to everyone). People like Zaid Hamid and his followers have become the norm. I mourn for the country of my forefathers. There is only one entity left that can make Pakistan a better nation that Pakistanis can be proud of. It is not America, Nawaz Sharif, Bhuttos, Imran Khan or other countries, and certainly not the dual-citizens like the author and I. It is the average Pakistani that must stand up. It must stand up against extremism, corruption, militants, against the Qadris but for the Salman Taseers of this world. It must provide a free-market for ideas, it must secularize itself, focus on educating Pakistanis of all sexes, ethnicities, and creeds. Also, it must genuinely extend hand towards western nations and India especially to build a better economic partnership. Invest in infrastructure, pay taxes as they are due instead of stealing electricity. There is hope, but it will continue to fade if this average Pakistani doesn't step up. Just my 2 cents.

independentthinker Jul 16, 2013 03:17am

Very interesting story - I am also a Pakistani, living in Canada for the past 37 years. I travel to the U.S. quite often - 3 to 4 times a month and yes, I have also noticed certain measures that they take, when dealing with me which were not present before 9/11 and also, something that I assume they don't do to others who are crossing. But you know what? I have accepted it and don't feel bad about experiencing it. I answer their questions truthfully, wait until their security checks are completed and move on. More often, in the recent past, they are in fact, not being so particular. When one shows their frustration or uneasiness, is when they tend to do more. When you take their actions in a personal manner, you are not only hurting yourself, because you are letting it bother you, but you are conveying to them that you are irritated by their actions, which is exactly what they want to see happen to you. I find my life in Canada and while I am also in the U.S. to be less bothersome, as I adapt the attitude of I don't care and just carry on living my life, as though nothing has happened. Sometimes, not reacting to a situation is the best response and things do end up returning to normal - that is my experience.

Hassan Jul 16, 2013 03:44am

No he is a Pakistani American, its easy for you to "comment" because you do not have to deal with the worldwide concern about today's Pakistan. Let me inform you as your countryman living abroad; We do carry an additional responsibility on our shoulder "free of charge" and that is to answer all sorts of questions that people ask after every mishap that happens in Pakistan. Yes we live a more comfortable life however there is a price tag attached to it.and that is to "BE VERY RESPONSIBLE AT ALL TIMES". Believe me you experience that day in and day out and perhaps you will think about going back to Pakistan.

Desi from Lahore Jul 16, 2013 03:45am

Sophia Chawala,you may be trying to brag about being an American citizen but your story lacks substance,you may consider yourself a dual national but in reality,like me,you lost that right(to call yourself a Pakistani citizen) when you took that oath here in United States.Now I have no regret since I was a Pakistani by birth but I became an American by choice,that does not mean I don't love Pakistan.I've only been to Pakistan 6 times in the last 33 years but every time I was there,it felt like I had never left.Back to my point,which is,your dual national story is terrible,but I will say this,whatever your dad said,if true,is the best part of your story,the only part that interests me,sorry.

Hassan Jul 16, 2013 03:47am

You need to live in some secular country to know what he means.

Desi from Lahore Jul 16, 2013 03:50am

When ever I'm asked where I'm from,I simply tell them I'm from my papa and mama,I get a much better respond that way

Akhlesh Jul 16, 2013 03:53am

@Syeed: The US does require to renounce allegiance to other countries when you become a naturalized US citizen. The citizenship oath begins with "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen......".

By virtue of taking up US citizenship, this lady renounced her Paksitani citizenship. That she continues to call herself a Pakistani citizen means that she took a false oath when she became a US citizen.

Abbas Jul 16, 2013 04:03am

@Syeed: Thanks Syeed, I am sure bulk of Pakistanis in US are ignorant of this fact. IMHO, Pakistanis hold dual passports to avoid $100-125 visa fee on their trip to Pakistan.

Abbas Jul 16, 2013 04:19am

@Md Imran: Wow!! Too often I have hear this claim from too many Pakistanis in Canada. One gets a blank look when asked to support their claim. Once I got very interesting response from fellow Pakistani when presented with facts that do not support the claim: most Pakistani do not declare wealth to for fear of income tax.

illawarrior Jul 16, 2013 10:48am

The USA maintains cordial diplomatic relations with many countries who do not receive foreign aid. Foreign aid reduces the relationship to that of a dependent. Financial independence, raises the relationship to that of an equal.

Adeel Ijaz Jul 16, 2013 11:17am

Well there are no two thoughts about it that Aid (slowly but surely) kills a nation.

Sam Jul 16, 2013 11:24am

@Syeed: Who cares whether it recognize dual citizenship or not?At least we have work authorization to work in more than one country...

Abdul Khan Jul 16, 2013 12:00pm

@Md Imran: Hey, what are you smoking? I would love to try it...and could you bring some to California past the customs? Cheers

Kidwai Jul 16, 2013 01:16pm

Well written but maybe a good read for for the Young World or some school magazine. In the words of one of your own presidents, JFK, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". Potential response: Bask in the glory of my US citizenship?

I have dual nationality as well; without any confusion of allegiance though.

Rajiv Kaushal Jul 16, 2013 02:29pm

@Adeel Ijaz: Well... thats just one way of saying "we would never say thanks even if you have given us money to survive for last 60 years.. " You can give me a million dollars and i can assure you that it wont kill me it would start some business with you and every sunday send you a thank you postcard.

Rajiv Kaushal Jul 16, 2013 02:50pm

@Md Imran: Since this article starts with citizenship... why dont you ask or bed your ummah nations to give citizenship to pakistanis living for last 30 years there... or at least give a chance to do business in their own names or buy property... Ummah. what an jok...

anon3 Jul 17, 2013 04:02pm

@Desi from Lahore: actually you are wrong. her story does not lack substance at all and she did not lose the right to call herself a pakistani citizen. you have no right to judge the connection one feels with pakistan. I also have a dual citizenship and in the last 10 years, i have come to Pakistan 12 times. based on that I could say your so called "connection" you feel is artificial because you have barely come back here. So please, keep your judgement to yourself.

anon3 Jul 17, 2013 04:36pm

Sophia, I have to say that i believe that the ideas you presented in you article are great. Your dad presents a great point and i believe the same thing that the US and Pakistan relationship is one that is not healthy and should deteriorate. But I think you make a great point that this dying relationship will taint the perspective of both Americans and Pakistanis of each other. And to be honest, I agree 100% that being a dual citizen is a wonderful and important thing. The last paragraph of your piece is truly mind opening. I feel like that was the main point of your piece and a lot of people are missing that based on these comments.