Divided allegiance?


The writer is a practitioner of design thinking in public policy.
The writer is a practitioner of design thinking in public policy.

THE recent disclosure of nationality status of special assistants to the prime minister has caused quite a stir in the media. The debate, however, is largely focused on individuals instead of the core question: what rights and privileges should countries of origin like Pakistan continue to confer on their expats who chose to become citizens of another state or embark on the road to such citizenship? Such a line of inquiry, ipso facto, revolves around the modern conception of the nation state and its claim of exclusive allegiance from its citizens. Therefore, some background is in order.

During the 19th century, the nation state evolved out of the conception of a state-citizen relationship that decidedly sat at the tri-junction of sovereignty, populace and territory. Till the 1960s, states continued to guard against duality of allegiance as if it entailed an element of betrayal in an otherwise monogamous relationship. Both The Hague Convention of 1930 and the 1963 European Convention on the Reduction of Multiple Nationality were endeavours to protect the sanctity of an exclusive bond, a kind of ‘monogamous mutualism’.

Since then, however, the notion of an exclusive state-citizen relationship has been increasingly challenged by the emergence of the ‘transnational citizen’ — a development triggered by demographics in the South, differential cross-country economic opportunities and an increasingly globalised economy. In the last 50 years, the sending as well as receiving states have accommodated this so-called transnational citizen through the instrument of dual citizenship as well through less generous variants of such citizenship, ie green card, long-stay work visas, etc. Pakistan currently has dual citizenship arrangements with some 20 countries.

In the substantive conception of a nation state, nationality is not merely a privilege or right like a traveller’s cheque we can draw from the state’s treasury at our convenience. On the contrary, it is an organic relationship with fellow citizens of the state, a sort of joint venture with shared profits and losses; like membership of a communitarian cooperative where each member embraces the community’s sense of purpose, history, traditions and even assumptions.

Should dual nationals participate in political affairs?

This communitarian conception of the nation state is the fountainhead of all civic virtues, ie solidarity, responsibility, loyalty and sacrifice, including martyrdom. The idea of Pakistan is deeply influenced by this sense of nationhood — a homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent who would opt to become citizens of the new state to the exclusion of any other state. That is precisely why Pakistan’s citizenship law recognises right to citizenship not only on account of birth (jus soli) like the US and UK and descent (jus sanguinis) like Germany and Japan, but also on account of migration for those who joined the new community before 1951 and belonged to the subcontinent.

While there is a liberal-democratic consensus on not denying any social, cultural and economic rights to dual nationals, participation in political or military affairs is a tricky business. Eligibility to bear arms or run for an elected office, or to hold a position of decision-making comparable to an elected office, practically amounts to controlling the ship of the state. Control or influence over the steering wheel of the state cannot be granted to any person who has either transferred or suffers from a divided allegiance; nor can it be given to a person who is not likely to bear the consequences of decisions made under his watch.

An expat who has obtained a foreign nationality has already exercised his option to transfer his allegiance. Likewise, an expat who has obtained permanent-resident status instead of a time-limited work visa has also revealed his preference and divided allegiance by joining the queue for foreign nationality. On the criterion of revealed preference alone, dual nationals and permanent residents abroad are not fit to hold any higher public office.

Of the seven advisers/special assistants under the cloud, I can personally vouch for the patriotic bona fides of at least two — but that is no objective criterion; the state needs to lay down unequivocally the rules of the game for all expats. They must reverse their revealed preferences by renouncing their foreign nationality and by surrendering any other permanent-residence privilege abroad.

Likewise, in order to demonstrate their faith in Pakistan’s progress and destiny, as well as willingness to bear the consequences of decisions they influence, they must submit an affidavit declaring their intention to reside in Pakistan even after expiry of their current term of office. After all, nation states are a jealous lot, and no mono-relational union can survive an extra ‘significant other’ lurking in the dark.

The writer is a practitioner of design thinking in public policy.

Twitter: @rashidlangrial

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2020