A measure of ‘loyalty’

Published November 13, 2013

IN a state whose citizens face increasing scrutiny before gaining admission to any other country, the debate over belonging and citizenship has often equated patriotism with the possession of a Pakistani passport.

In the debates of assemblies past, which will undoubtedly be resurrected in the future, the possession of a foreign passport has been considered as grounds for exclusion from holding political office.

In the venom-filled rhetoric of television debate and newspaper reports, those possessing foreign citizenship have often been deemed duplicitous in their loyalties, insufficiently committed to the welfare of the country and hence unpatriotic.

The equation of these constructions is simple: those holding Pakistani passports are the only ones who belong, who can be trusted, who truly love Pakistan.

Vehement and passionate as the discussion over passports and patriotism has been, it has largely omitted issues of class and wealth.

It has also left unaddressed the options available to the very wealthy who purport to possess only Pakistani citizenship, pushing the fact as prima facie evidence of their undying devotion to the nation.

The assumption underlying this premise is simply that those who do not have dual citizenship or citizenship of a foreign country cannot escape either the laws or the accountability that they may be subject to vis-à-vis their time in office.

Possessing Pakistani citizenship, it is imagined, makes them subject to all the restrictions imposed on the ordinary Pakistani citizen, sentenced to suffering like millions of others.

An analysis of the means of procuring citizenship for other countries, however, reveals the error of such easy proclamations regarding passports and patriotism.

Not only has a robust economic market for the purchase of citizenship always existed, it has in recent years burgeoned and ballooned, providing ever more options for the wealthy of poor countries looking to abscond once they have exhausted their political ambitions.

So while nation states like Pakistan remain embroiled in the politics of passports, international travel brokers have perfected the art of providing passports to the wealthy in a matter of days.

According to immigration scholar Katy Long, countries that make this possible include places like St Kitts and Nevis, where investment and legal fees of about $400,000 can provide you with the requisite passport. Dominica provides a ‘family option’ for a neat $100,000.

American permanent residency can be obtained with an investment of $500,000 in a rural area with high unemployment.

The permanent residency can be converted into an American passport after five years without ever having to work in that country. A million-pound investment in the UK can obtain permanent residency, which can be converted into citizenship after living there only 185 days out of the year.

Simply put, once wealthy politicians are done with the countries they wish to rule and no longer need to make loud proclamations of their citizenship to the gullible poor, they can avail of such options.

A notable example includes former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now a proud citizen of Montenegro. As Katy Long aptly notes, money allows the world’s wealthy to turn citizenship into a monetary transaction.

Interestingly, while the fact that the rich can, at any time, leave a country and begin to belong to another is happily ignored, added burdens are placed on those who obtain foreign citizenship the hardworking way.

In the Pakistani case, the $14 billion a year obtained in remittances from foreign workers is never considered worthy of mention when evaluating patriotism or economic contributions to the country.

Demands for renunciation of foreign citizenship are routinely lobbed at engineers, computer programmers, doctors, and others whose path to foreign citizenship has involved not large sums of cash but huge amounts of time away from home, friends and family, for the sole purpose of earning a living.

In the political constructions of Pakistani patriotism, it is these foreign workers who are the ‘traitors’, not the Pakistani passport-toting politicians who know full well that their bank accounts will enable them to purchase a passport at a moment’s notice.

In the midst of these discussions, the point often forgotten is that citizenship itself and the passport, are largely legal ‘fictions’ created by countries to limit the application of rights.

In this sense, if one goes beyond all the lofty rhetoric of belonging and equality, the idea of citizenship and the bureaucratic mechanisms that enable it exist largely to benefit wealthy nations wishing to restrict rights and entitlements to only those they deem worthy.

In poor countries, where rights and entitlements are hardly ever available to the deprived, citizenship becomes something almost fictive, conferring perhaps some feeling of belonging but hardly ever any means of survival or social insurance.

For millions of Pakistanis, their passports are unlikely to come to their rescue if a natural disaster destroys their homes, a boss fires them from their job, or if they are struck by a life-threatening illness. Rights exist in theory, poised on the legal fact of citizenship, but are in reality unavailable and nonexistent.

When the two factors — the purchase of citizenship for the rich and unavailability of rights for the poor — are considered, the fallacies of the equation that posits possession of a Pakistani passport as patriotism are exposed.

Whether they malign at home or restrict abroad, visa and passport regulations exist largely to limit the rights of upwardly mobile, middle-class professionals who are not rich enough to purchase citizenship and not poor enough to be indifferent.

The millions of Pakistani doctors, engineers, computer programmers, and financial managers who cannot find jobs at home thus must not only beg for visas from foreign countries, they must also be the target of hurtful accusations of rich politicians who can hide their own lack of patriotism behind huge stacks of cash.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

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