HAROON Akhtar
HAROON Akhtar

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz suffered a political blow on Wednesday when the Supreme Court disqualified two of its members in the 104-member Senate for having dual nationality.

“For reasons to be recorded later, we hold and declare that both Haroon Akhtar and Saadia Abbasi were dual nationals on the date when they filed their nomination papers for the Senate elections,” Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar observed while dictating the order.

Both the members were disqualified under Article 63(1)(c) of the Constitution. It says that a person will be disqualified from being elected or chosen member of parliament if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state.

Haroon Akhtar holds Canadian nationality while Saadia Abbasi, sister of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has US citizenship.

SC refers another opposition senator’s renunciation certificate for verification from the US State Department

The two were backed by the PML-N, but contested the Senate elections as independent candidates in the wake of the Supreme Court judgement of removing Nawaz Sharif from his position as party head and nullified all official party decisions he took following the July 28, 2017, Panama Papers verdict.

A seven-judge Supreme Court bench ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to immediately denotify the members as senators and take steps to hold elections for the two vacant seats.

On March 5, the apex court had raised question marks over the eligibility of senators who have dual nationality.

Even after losing two senators in the upper house, the PML-N still appears to be the majority party with 30 members. But it is widely believed that these seats may now go to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the by-elections since it currently enjoys majority in the Punjab Assembly.

The PTI has 12 members in the Senate while the Peoples Party 20.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court referred the renunciation certificate of Ms Nuzhat Sadiq, a sitting PML-N Senator, to the Foreign Office for onward verification from the US State Department.

At the last hearing on Oct 10, the larger bench had referred a similar document relating to the renunciation of British nationality by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar to the Foreign Office for verifying it through the British High Commission in Islamabad as well as the Secretary of State Office of the UK.

Senior counsel Barrister Ali Zafar, who represented Haroon Akhtar, tried to convince the court that the provisions of Article 63(1)(c) relate to the future, meaning that a member of parliament will be disqualified only when he acquires foreign nationality after becoming a legislator.

But the chief justice, as well as Justice Gulzar Ahmed, observed that the requirement of the constitution was that no foreign national should sit in parliament, but if Mr Zafar’s argument were accepted, it would imply that the entire parliament, its speaker, the prime minister, governor, chief ministers and members of the provincial assemblies may become foreigners.

SAADIA Abbasi
SAADIA Abbasi

There is no harm for economic reasons, the counsel retorted, emphasising that acquisition was a future present tense and not something that had happened in the past.

The question of loyalty and disloyalty was a matter of opinion while interpreting the constitutional provisions.

Acceptance of this argument will lend absurdity to the constitution, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed observed.

The chief justice observed that there was no question of loyalty or disloyalty. Pakistanis who had acquired foreign nationality were “more loyal than us”, he added.

Justice Nisar recalled how the ECP granted the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis, but when senior counsel Hamid Khan recalled that the right was given after the Supreme Court’s judgement, the chief justice said “but someone else is getting the credit”.

The counsel, however, conceded that when Haroon Akhtar filed his nomination papers for the Senate elections he held Canadian citizenship, which he had acquired 30 years ago. But Mr Akhtar renounced it before his election as senator, Hamid Khan said.

Ahmer Bilal Soofi, representing Saadia Abbasi, said his client had acquired the US citizenship on Sept 20, 1990, but relinquished it on Feb 8 this year and received the renunciation certificate on Feb 20.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed that the renunciation would become effective from the date it was approved by the US State Department. Hence Ms Abbasi was a US national when she filed her nomination papers since the approval of renunciation had not come, Justice Ahsan observed.

The counsel, however, emphasised that the preamble to the constitution required Pakistan to behave like a responsible state among the comity of nations and to achieve that objective, the dual national connectivity was necessary.

Advocate Aleem Baiq Chughtai, appearing on behalf of Nuzhat Sadiq, argued that his client had renounced foreign citizenship in 2012.

Advocate Bilal Minto, who appeared as amicus curiae, said that once acquired, a foreign nationality entails permanent disqualification of lawmakers.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2018