With the Supreme Court’s suspension of Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s Senate membership, it may not have been widely noticed that this not only added a chapter to the judiciary-executive tussle that had previously peaked in the Prime Minister’s conviction for contempt, but his membership of the Cabinet also opened up again an old debate about citizenship. The judiciary-executive tussle, which consists of the executive not obeying judicial orders, is aimed at protecting President Asif Zardari from legal action over the corruption allegations against him. It is also worth noting that the judicial scrutiny of MNAs and Senators has so far resulted in suspensions of memberships for those who are associated with the President, and who do not represent a specific constituency. Farahnaz Ispahani, the MNA suspended, was a member of the presidency team, being a spokesperson for the President, while Malik was accounted closer to the President than to the Prime Minister, and one of the leading ‘President’s men’ in the Cabinet. One corollary of the Supreme Court decision has been that it has intervened in matters of membership of Parliament, and has not required the help of the presiding officers. This has been important after the PM’s conviction, for his partisans have taken the view that only the Speaker can decide if a question about his membership has arisen, and only she is competent to refer his case to the Chief Election Commissioner for a decision. She has decided in his favour, and indeed, it was recommended by their defenders that Ms Ispahani’s and Mr Malik’s cases could only be decided by their presiding officers.
Then there is the concept of citizenship. It must be kept in mind that Mr Malik spent the greater part of his career in the Protectorate of Immigrants, and thus would be better acquainted than most about the issues involved in citizenship. The US and UK citizenship harks back to Roman citizenship, which was at one time very desirable, especially for those Roman subjects who had never been to Rome. It meant certain defined legal rights, including the courts one could go to. However, the Emperor Septimus Severus granted Roman citizenship in the 1st century AD to all free men in the empire.
Under Muslim Empires, citizenship was not a big issue. People were identified by place of residence, or origin of ancestors, and there were no travel restrictions, so there was really no concept of citizenship. One result of this was that people could be employed by the governments without any need that they be locals. This meant that it was sufficient to be educated. One hangover can be seen in Europe, where Eugene of Savoy was employed by the Holy Roman Empire as an officer, indeed as a general, against France. One even later example was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s employment in his army of French officers whose careers had been abruptly cut short along with Napoleon’s when he was defeated.
However, when the European empires were created, one of the things they did was create boundaries to movement. They also introduced passports, which were meant to facilitate citizens even before they were made compulsory. Passports then had the form they retain, that of a request by a sovereign to let the bearer pass freely. They were only supposed to be issued to citizens. Indeed, the passport is still a proof of citizenship.
A parallel development was the development of a new concept of nationality, which was exclusive. Part of the reason for the development of this concept was the European scramble for colonies, which meant that intra-European rivalries were allowed into the open, even before the natives. This meant that, when the European powers could no longer hold on to their empires after World War II, the newly-freed colonies inherited the same citizenship laws. Then came the mass movement of people from the former colonies to the former mother countries, a vast wave of economic migrants, who found first that retaining the citizenship of their native countries disadvantaged them in several ways, security of residence being one. These economic migrants also had families, and found that children born abroad not only had citizenship rights, but also access to free educational systems. Finally, foreign passports meant increased mobility. For example, while India and Pakistan have placed considerable restraints on each other’s citizens, anyone travelling on a foreign passport has greater access. Similarly, the number of Pakistanis, who have visited Israel on foreign passports, is considerable.
Obtaining a foreign passport was, therefore, something to which Pakistanis grew to aspire to. That this meant obtaining foreign citizenship was something of a technicality, and the new citizenship was treated with the contempt with which the original Pakistani citizenship was treated. Instead of something that might entail the sacrifice of one’s life, citizenship was regarded as a valuable good, one of the perks of economic migration.
It was only a matter of time before these citizens aspired to political careers in Pakistan. The PPP, probably, has a larger number because its members spent periods in exile abroad, where they obtained citizenship. This seems to be how Rehman Malik has obtained that desirable British citizenship, and which he does not want to give up!
The dual-nationality concept was established for Commonwealth citizens, to draw together the dissolving British Empire. It was then foisted upon the USA by the Israelis who did not, as the USA requires, wish to give up the citizenship of one if that of the other was obtained, and it seems that Pakistanis have joined in. Much is made to the remittances from abroad, but it seems that the PPP insiders at the moment falling victim, did not support the Pakistan economy during their exile.
The Constitution is clear that someone obtaining the citizenship of another country cannot be elected a member in any legislature. Thus, there is supposed to be a choice, between obtaining one of the perks of being abroad, and taking part in the uncertainties of Pakistani politics. If British politicians of Pakistani origin have made good in the UK, it is because they have chosen to do so. This has caused some heartburning in the UK, where a woman of Pakistani origin, Saeeda Warsi, is a Co-Chair of the Conservative Party, and is facing criticism over allegations of financial impropriety, with her defenders claiming the charges are religiously and racially motivated by reactionary party stalwarts.
The PPP needs to think hard. Is the desire to ensure that Bhutto’s son-in-law gets what he wants (for saving Farahnaz Ispahani and Rehman Malik amounts to no more than that) really worth having a member of the Defence Committee of the National Assembly (as Ms Ispahani is) a US citizen at a time when relations with the USA are so tense? Or having a British citizen a member of the Cabinet which decides on restoring the Nato supplies, with the UK a Nato member?
n The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.