The exclusion process

July 26, 2020

Should dual nationals have any role in government?

Dear All,

For years the question of whether or not dual nationals, or those who are permanent residents of other countries, should be allowed to be part of the government has been debated in Pakistan. Nobody much cared that the technocrat brought in by the military minded establishment to be interim prime minister in 1993 was an American, but themes like loyalty, patriotism etc have been much discussed over the last decade following the years when the assembly was purged of several members thanks to a rather, er, ‘overactive’ judiciary.

The debate continued last week with revelations that several members of the PTI government are green card holders or permanent residents of other countries including Canada. The usual talking points of law, constitution and loyalty emerged. Few people, however, dwelt on the case of Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar who was the first Muslim to be elected to the UK parliament where he remained for 13 years. Chaudhry Sarwar’s son is now a British MP, but Sarwar himself is now active in Pakistani politics as a PTI politician and governor of the Punjab. I mention this particular case because it is a very interesting one to consider but the fact of the matter is that this is a complicated issue and it needs to be examined very carefully and in the context of what has happened in Pakistan’s past.

Many people who have joined recent Pakistan governments have simply gone through the process of ‘renouncing’ their other passport. Such a quick fix is usually chosen by individuals who are so aligned to ‘establishment forces’ that they need have no fear of political persecution, personal safety and exile. Long decades of oppressive military dictatorships and their attendant quashing of civil rights and political persecution have resulted in those criticising martial rule, or its linked industries, being targeted and often killed. Many of those who survived were forced into exile. These included many individuals whose life’s mission had been to work toward making the country a better place — and many of these people were typically politicians, bureaucrats and political workers.

Exile is a punishment. For those who never have wanted to detach their lives from that of their homeland it is agony: you are helpless to have any input into events and you become marginalised and rendered irrelevant. Many exiles get through the years of separation by keeping alive their dream of once again being part of positive change and progress in the mother country; many of these are able to go back to discover that they are now distrusted and excluded.

The point is that military rule and the manipulation of political systems and democracy force people to either be silent or to leave. If they are not killed first, that is.

This has been going on in Pakistan for decades: anybody expressing a critical view not aligned to that of a religious right-wing, security-state narrative is made to suffer — silenced and excluded in one way or another. This happens in education and the media and all sections of society, not just in politics. Independent thinkers are shunned and obstructed, demonised and harassed, charged with being either ‘traitors’ or ‘blasphemers.’ Any opinion not in line with the thinking of a rightwing security state is termed unpatriotic, the person expressing it is deemed an ‘enemy agent.’ In this way a large number of committed and progressive individuals are purged from the country.

And then there are those in politics who gauge how dangerous things are and try to get their families out of harm’s way because the danger is so great. And there are the ones who realise that in order to enter public life they need to avail of opportunities that might not be available to them in their country: this could involve monetary success or just professional opportunity and training. So, should they all be excluded from public life? Pakistan needs to re-evaluate the criteria for both legislators and government advisors.

And if anybody has any doubts that the ‘powers that be’ are continuing their efforts to purge and silence dissidents, just think of why journalist Matiullah Jan was abducted last week. Or look at the cases of the many journalists who have been sidelined and demonised for their views. Or the continuing forced disappearances and the killing or persecution of rights activists. Or the case of at least five bloggers who were abducted by the state, in early 2017 held for several weeks, threatened and tortured. Of the bloggers, those still in Pakistan are silent on issues they once spoke critically about. The message is: leave or shut up.

Against this backdrop of political oppression and economic deprivation, Pakistan needs to rethink the idea of divided loyalty and eligibility to hold elected office or government advisory roles. Otherwise, soon everybody in the country who doesn’t have a right-wing view will either be dead or silent.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The exclusion process: Should dual nationals have any role in government?