In order to become a member of parliament in Pakistan, one needs (or rather needed) a bachelor’s degree (this could be real or fake – according to the chief minister of Balochistan, there is no difference), lots of money, political connections, dubious morals and the right surname.
One can either be born into such good fortune or marry into it. Post the accident of birth or arrangement of fortunate marriage the path to political power is fairly straight and we have been hounded by the specters of dynastic and incompetent politics since Independence. So I began to wonder, if the constitution had any safeguards to prevent us from such inept leadership.
A quick study of the document revealed that there is a whole list of conditions under which a person is rendered ineligible to run for political office. The conditions range from corruption to insanity. Interestingly, the one condition that the document is vague on is the issue of citizenship, particularly dual citizenship. According to the constitution, one can be disqualified from being elected to parliament if, “he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state …”
I’m not a constitutional lawyer or a lawyer at all – but even to my untrained eyes, this language seems vague. So while we require political leadership to be sane and moral we don’t require them to be only Pakistani? Pakistan allows its citizens to hold dual nationalities so why deny politicians this legal right?
Because in Pakistan where the popular slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ (long live Pakistan) has changed to ‘Pakistan se zinda bhaag’ (run away alive from Pakistan), holding only Pakistani citizenship by choice is either sheer stupidity or a pretty significant commitment to the people and the country. And as taxpaying citizens of the country, we should demand, at the very least, this commitment from those who we entrust with public office.
I grew up in Islamabad, where over the years I observed the long lines outside of foreign embassies grow longer and longer, a silent testimony that escaping from Pakistan was the first priority for many. In a country where people die of poverty and hunger each day while our leaders house rare Siberian tigers in air-conditioned cages – it is not odd that people want to escape? In a country where minorities are persecuted of minorities and there is hardly any safety of property or life, often the only option left is to run away.
I don’t have a problem with those who want to leave and build for themselves a better life. I have no problems with those who want to hold dual citizenship but live in Pakistan because this is where their heart belongs. But I do have a problem with those, who want to lead, live in style on taxpayer money, make decisions on behalf of the 170 million people of this country but hold in their hands, an easy exit strategy – dual citizenship.
Dual citizenship denotes that the person has a significant allegiance to or interest in another country. And while this is not a bad thing on its own, it is not the most desirable quality in a public representative. Public office holders should have only one allegiance, and it should be to the country and people that they represent. And those who aspire to leadership positions in the country should be required to give this commitment. Steering Pakistan’s future is a pretty big responsibility and it should not be granted to those who are not ready to show single-minded allegiance to the cause.
Also, leaders with foreign passports are like foreign capital – they flee when the going gets tough! Those who know they are unable to flee are more likely to act in the long-term interest of the nation and less like fickle foreign investments. So before you ask for my vote – please assure me that when the going gets tough you will not run and, if this ship sinks you are prepared to sink with it. Only captains willing to sink with their ship will do everything in their power to keep it afloat.
Unfortunately, for far too long, we have written off our politicians as a lost cause. We have stopped demanding of them the commitment that we as citizens deserve. And a good place to start would be demanding a show of commitment to the country by requiring all public office holders to hold only Pakistani citizenship. I am sick and tired of politicians who reap the benefits of the country and build business and property in foreign lands. I am tired of big-wigs being imported from abroad who treat the country like their personal political experiment and then leave when the country fails to respond as they wanted.
So can someone please take note of the constitutional vagueness that allows subjects of her Majesty, Queen of England or those that have pledged allegiance to the star-spangled banner from running for political office and making decisions on behalf of the people of Pakistan?
Sehar Tariq is Pakistani citizen (only) who wishes we had better and more dedicated leadership. She blogs at www.sehartariq.wordpress.com
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.