Bleeding green

21 Jul 2020

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The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

THE nationality issue has reared its ugly head again. The colour of one’s passport and the papers hidden within, be it a green card or an iqama, are being hotly debated as is the ‘high quality patriotism’ needed for attending cabinet meetings and other such lofty policymaking forums. It is sound and fury that we have heard before — though this time around the ones who turned their noses up at iqamas are now defending green cards and those who once said iqamas were no big deal are now horrified at dual citizenship or permanent residency.

The lines between naya Pakistan and purana Pakistan are blurred.

For in both it seems nationality is an emotive discussion; those who hold more than just the Pakistani passport are upset that their sincerity is being questioned while for others the idea that someone who has more than Pakistan as a choice may not opt for the ‘national’ interest when making decisions.

It is not a simple discussion. Few in the world have found the right answer it seems — in every part of the world different rules apply. In the UK, naturalised citizens as well as those from the Commonwealth can contest elections; France allows foreign-born and dual citizens to contest election and a Norwegian and a Moroccan have taken part in elections there though they didn’t win; Americans aren’t required to disclose if they have dual nationality when running for Congress and hence no one keeps track of how many travelling documents they do or can hold. But being on the right side of the law is sometimes not enough — Ted Cruz renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014 even though he didn’t have to legally.

In Pakistan, we are constantly ruled by those whose loyalties are suspect, despite our efforts through legal means to prevent them from reaching our corridors of power. We have reduced the abstract issue of patriotism and loyalties to a legal one, regardless of it not resolving anything. The real issues are harder to address.

We have reduced the abstract issue of patriotism and loyalty to a legal one.

As the hapless citizens of a weak and poor country, we are not just faced with the common desire of many to acquire a second passport for a better future or easier travel or an even quicker exit. Most of us want this, and fortunately or unfortunately, those ruling us are best placed to acquire it and many of them do.

Secondly, we are also stuck with a ruling class we distrust for many reasons, among which is the fact that it continues to escape abroad after losing power, for one reason or the other. And so great is this distrust and our belief in their insincerity to Pakistan that few stop to consider if their departure is because of or despite a foreign passport — Pervez Musharraf to Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain left for other reasons as did the retired military men who found careers to pursue abroad.

Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves if our distrust of any of these men would lessen if they continued to live in Pakistan, all else remaining the same. Would their stay in Pakistan, after having lost power, convince us of their attachment to the motherland?

But perhaps this lack of trust is closely linked to the notion of ‘foreign insincerity’ because so much of what happens here is decided elsewhere — or so exists the perception. Foreign institutions shape our economic policy; US aid or Washington’s support is seen to have ensured the long rules of Zia and Musharraf (and ‘pushed’ us into the Afghan war twice). And neither are these just simplified versions of history; such is the external influence that few would dispute Washington and London brokering the Pervez Musharraf-Benazir Bhutto deal in 2007 to the extent of finalising the contours of the set-up to follow or the embarrassing details being spilled in WikiLeaks where it seemed no politician was above kowtowing to the Americans or sharing petty information about each other.

Everyone and their aunt has read the cable about our right-wing saviour Maulana Fazlur Rehman asking for ‘Western’ help to reach Prime Minister House but few noticed the snide, gossipy comments government officials made about each other. However, other cables quoted Asif Ali Zardari as describing Amin Fahim as too lazy or Rehman Malik saying “The PM [Yousuf Raza Gilani] is not very smart.” On the other hand, we don’t need the cables to tell us how violence in Karachi would ebb once London got in touch with the MQM, though there is a cable which narrates Farooq Sattar “blaming May 12’s violence on everyone from President Musharraf to feudal landholders to the ISI to other political parties”.

These are just instances of public information. One can only wonder what our conversations with the Middle Eastern rulers sound like — considering that they can compel us to pull out of confirmed events with allies such as Malaysia and Turkey or that allowing houbara bustard hunting is a pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

None of this would change significantly even if everyone in power was clutching their green passports to their chest.

Neither would the poor decision-making give way to better ones if all the ‘dils’(hearts)were Pakistani and our laws prevented dual nationals from being in any position of power.

This is not to say that Pakistan cannot and should not demand documentary proof of ‘loyalty’. It can and it should if everyone so agrees. It can be legislated that the citizenship bar on parliamentarians be extended to not just advisers to the prime minister but also the bureaucracy and the judiciary. (However, this will not end the problem like the declaration of assets by parliamentarians has not ended corruption.)

Perhaps along with this, could we also focus on why we can’t make better policies which can reduce the trust deficit between the ruling and the ruled as well as our dependence on outside powers?

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2020