Life is elsewhere

Published September 27, 2023
The writer is the founder of Clifton Urban Forest, Karachi.
The writer is the founder of Clifton Urban Forest, Karachi.

HISTORIAN Will Durant once stated, “A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself with­­in.” The patterns and characteristics leading to the downfall of great civilisations, empires, and states are remarkably consistent. This self-destruction is evident in the narratives of civilisations like Egy­pt, Mesopotamia and our own Indus Valley. Even the modern-day story of the mighty Soviet Union doesn’t deviate much.

With sociocultural decay, corruption, escalating poverty, ethnic and sectarian strife, and a constant economic crisis, Pakistan’s case is unique. However, a distinctive factor exacerbating these challenges is the ‘life is elsewhere’ mentality fostered by dual citizenship.

Pakistan’s dual citizenship policy, allowing its citizens to hold passports from 21 countries, including developed nations, has created a disconcerting trend. The elite — rulers, business tycoons, retired army chiefs and bureaucrats, etc — often aspire to maintain their connections with Pakistan while residing elsewhere. This dual identity erodes patriotism, fostering an attitude that nurtures ad hoc decision-making and mediocrity.

Pakistan has, in essence, become the proverbial golden-egg-laying duck for its elite. Those in positions of power amass wealth with the intention of relocating abroad, exploiting the nation’s resources for personal gain all the time. The prevailing attitude is one of self-interest, where everyone seems intent on maximising their personal wealth, often at the expense of national welfare. The moment these elites exit power or retire, their focus swiftly shifts elsewhere, leaving behind a void in the leadership.

The prevailing attitude is one of self-interest.

India has taken a different approach. India does not allow dual citizenship. Instead, it offers the status of Overseas Citizenship of India to its citizens who acquire foreign citizenship. The OCI card comes with several benefits, including a lifelong free travel visa to India, and the freedom to live, work, conduct business, and own assets/properties there. However, OCI cardholders do not have an Indian passport, the right to vote or hold public positions, and are subject to restrictions on purchasing agricultural land.

The question of dual citizenship’s impact on a developing country like ours is complex. On the one hand, it can lead to ‘brain drain’, as skilled individuals may permanently reside in their second country, resulting in a loss of talent. Dual citizens may also have divided loyalties, potentially causing a conflict of interest in politics and business. Their involvement in domestic politics can contribute to political instability, and overreliance on remittances from dual citizens can create economic vulnerabilities. Additionally, governments may worry about the loyalty and security of dual citizens, especially during times of political unrest or conflict.

It is imperative to reflect on the role of dual citizenship in exacerbating Pakistan’s myriad challenges. The ‘life is elsewhere’ mentality among the elite must be addressed. Re-evaluating the dual citizenship policy could potentially compel the nation’s well-educated and influential figures to invest in Pakistan’s prosperity, rather than viewing the country as a stepping stone to personal enrichment abroad.

Many dual-national Pakistanis are diverting remittances to real estate, rather than productive areas such as industry and infrastructure. This shift hinders industrial and service sector investment, redirecting working capital and concessional finance into real estate. Speculative real estate investments drive up housing prices, worsening wealth inequality and fail-ing to address the need for affordable housing.

Banning dual ci­­t­izenship could pro­mpt positive cha­n­­ge by necessitating elite commitment to national prosperity. Despite corruption, it could redirect the focus towards domestic investment, benefiting industry and development. While not the sole cause of Pakistan’s issues, dual citizenship fosters self-interest. Re-evaluating this policy could rejuvenate national development commitment, pushing leaders, including the military, politicians and businessmen, to prioritise their homeland’s well-being. Coupled with proactive policies, it could steer Pakistan towards recovery and prosperity.

The quick-profit-making spree of the elite must know the old way of Eskimos killing wolves. The Eskimo coats a knife blade with animal blood, allowing it to freeze in layers. When a wolf finds the blood-scented knife and licks it in frenzy, it eventually exposes the sharp blade. The wolf’s intense craving for blood blinds it to the pain of the blade, leading to its demise. The ‘wolf’ here is definitely licking its own blood now. Time to wake and howl.

The writer is the founder of Clifton Urban Forest, Karachi.

mlohar@gmail.com

X (formerly Twitter): @masoodlohar

Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023

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