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Dual standards on dual nationality

Published Oct 21, 2011 02:53am

The government is in no mood to support any constitutional amendment on the subject of dual nationality.—File photo

ISLAMABAD: Would you trust somebody who has an exit plan to run your country?

After months of silence, the issue of public representatives and government officers holding dual nationalities surfaced again this week in the National Assembly.

Members, across party lines, endorsed the move to strip those with dual nationalities of their parliamentary membership.

In April this year, Raza Hayat Hiraj of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) introduced a private member bill seeking disqualification of parliamentarians and officers of the federal and provincial governments if they held dual nationality.

“Those who take oath of loyalty to another country cannot safeguard the interests of Pakistan,” Hiraj had said while presenting the bill before the House.

The bill even recommended stripping those who owned property outside of Pakistan or operate accounts in foreign banks.

However, in May when the PML-Q joined the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) at the centre, the bill was consigned to the proverbial dustbin.

As the National Assembly rules preclude a cabinet member from moving a private bill, Hiraj's bill was dropped by the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice because he had joined the federal cabinet.

Since then, two people with dual nationalities have been appointed to important posts by the government. The government appointed Akhtar Baland Rana, who has Canadian nationality, as the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP).

When protests ensued, the Presidency issued a clarification stating there was no bar on a civil servant who enjoyed dual nationality from becoming the AGP.

Earlier this week, on Wednesday, Yasin Anwar, an American national, took over as the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Clearly, the government is in no mood to support any constitutional amendment on this subject. However, the government's stand is not shared by everyone.

Last week, PPP's Shah Mehmood Qureshi sought the speaker's ruling on the disqualification of those MNAs who hold dual nationalities. Qureshi, who fell out of favour with the PPP leadership, argued that clause 3(1) of the Article 63 of the Constitution barred anyone with dual nationality from becoming a parliamentarian.

Rana Tanveer of the PML-N and Amir Muqam of the PML-Q agreed with Qureshi. They pressed acting speaker, Nadeem Afzal Gondal, to come up with a ruling against the lawmakers with dual nationalities.

However, no parliamentary leader of any party participated in the discussion while Mr Gondal said that the speaker could not be forced to give any particular ruling.

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that there is no effort on the part of the government to even track the dual nationality holders within.

This is also true of the National Assembly and Senate secretariats. When asked, officials concerned said there was no obligation on a lawmaker to share such information with the secretariats.

Similarly, the custodians of both the houses - speaker National Assembly and chairman Senate – do not have the authority to force members of the Parliament to provide this information.

However, some insiders claimed that there are parliamentarians who hold foreign passports.

They pointed out that at the time of visits abroad for parliamentary delegations, the parliament staff made the arrangements and were given all the passports and other documents.

However, some parliamentarians never handed over their passports and made their own traveling arrangements. It is a common perception that these parliamentarians are those who hold non-Pakistani passports, a fact they don't want to publicise.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also doesn't keep such information. However, there have been reports that in the next general elections, the commission will introduce a separate section in which a candidate will be asked to declare his/her nationality.

But these are mere reports. Whether or not the EC will do this, is far from clear, at present.

Truth be told, be it the EC, the government or the assembly, there will be little movement on this issue till the parliamentarians themselves are ready for it.

Till then only those who are in the opposition will raise this issue, as did Qureshi or Hiraj. And the moment they are accepted back into the government fold or are invited to join it, they will dump the issue.

As a National Assembly official pointed out, if the debate on dual nationality was of concern, the parliamentarians would have addressed the matter in the 18th or 19th constitutional amendments.

Words not action will always be the preferred choice on this issue.