Dual Citizenship Cases Raise Questions of Due Process

It seems the first wave of petitions alleging parliamentarians holding dual citizenship was just a testing of the waters, and having found a friendly Court, the floodgates are beginning to open. Media reports that more than 14 more lawmakers have been targeted in a new petition to the Supreme Court, with even more expected soon. I have written about substantive questions that are raised by the substance of the petitions as well as the political questions that arise from using a law added under a brutal military dictatorship to disqualify democratically-elected officials. Today, however, I want to explore some procedural questions raised by these petitions.

The first question is, what is required to bring such a case? When petitioners approach the Court claiming that a member of parliament is ineligible due to holding dual citizenship, what do they have to show for the Court to take their claim seriously? Is the mere suggestion by a barrister using flowery legal language sufficient to attract the Court’s attention? In the words of Newsweek editor David Frum, “Can you really stand up in front of a Pakistani tribunal and spout whatever fool nonsense pops into your head?”

In the case of MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, the petitioner may have presented as evidence media reports that a US State Department list included an asterisk next to her name, suggesting she was a US national. But is one punctuation mark sufficient to bring a case, or was the petitioner required to show more evidence backing his claim?

The case of Interior Minister Rehman Malik is even more interesting. What evidence was presented that the Minister was a British national? Bloggers at Cafe Pyala say that Malik was seen using a red passport recently, but later updated the post noting that cabinet members actually carry red – not green – Pakistani passports. Was a case brought on a mistake? The real question, though, is whether some proof is required beyond what someone claims to have seen. If someone tells the Court that they saw Chief Minister Sindh change his form into a cat, is the CM obliged to prove he is not a jinn?

That the Interior Minister did have British nationality at one point is irrelevant to the procedural question raised above, but it actually raises another more troubling question. In the case of Farahnaz Ispahani, media reports alleging her dual nationality are well known. But in the case of Rehman Malik, I don’t remember any media reports claiming to have found public documents suggesting his British citizenship. In that case, how did the petitioner come to know about it? If the petitioner has documentary evidence that some or all of the accused parliamentarians are dual citizens, where did he get these documents? Is it possible for private citizens to check the nationality of other private citizens in foreign countries? Could someone, for example, ask the UK to confirm or deny if Imran Khan is now or ever has been a UK national?

On Monday, The News published an image of a document from the petition that appears to include foreign passport numbers for certain lawmakers.

Image from The News - Alleged dual nationality holders

How did the petitioner get these alleged passport numbers? Has the Court asked this question?

These questions have nothing to do with whether or not dual citizens should be allowed to hold office. These are questions related to fundamental rights of due process and justice. Surely bringing a petition against anyone – regardless of whether they are a member of parliament or a chai wallah – should require more than just “standing up in front of a Pakistani tribunal and spouting whatever fool nonsense pops into your head”, and if documentary evidence is provided, surely the Court should ask where the documents came from. While the media is buzzing about whether or not this or that MNA has dual citizenship, the real question that should be asked is where this story came from in the first place.

Dual Nationality Suspensions: A Continuation of Zia’s Political Targeting?

ZAB courtAfter Gen Zia carried out his coup, he made sure that democratic politicians could not threaten his grip on power. He did this by having Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto put to death, throwing Benazir Bhutto in prison, and carrying out an orchestrated campaign to harrass, torture, and kill democratic activists and leaders across the country. Many fled, not out of fear, but out of the dedication to regroup and return to liberate Pakistan from the clutches of a brutal dictator. Zia is long gone, but unfortunately, his programme of hounding democratic politicians continues – only this time, through other means.

A couple of months ago, I noted that people take dual citizenship for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with a diminished love or loyalty to Pakistan. One of those reasons was fear of political targeting:

It is also important to view the issue of dual nationality in a historical perspective. For most of the past 35 years, Pakistan suffered under one military dictatorship or another. Gen. Zia especially treated his political opponents brutally and without mercy. Martial Law Regulation No 53 left an indelible stain on the nation and many families were forced to look for security abroad.

Even during brief periods of democratic rule, politics was a high stakes game that ruined lives. We should remember that before the NRO was spun into a ‘get Zardari’ campaign, it was considered as a way to deal with the fact that the judiciary had become a weapon used against opponents. Just as the Supreme Court seems interested only in 4 cases of dual nationals, it seems to have forgotten that the NRO affected not only Zardari’s case but 8,000 others.

And the dual nationality issue affects every party and political ideology also. Just because the PPP is the only party being targeted by the Supreme Court, we should remember that even Imran Khan has said that dual nationals “should be treated equally”. Actually, PTI is taking much of its funding from foreign countries and some top PTI officers such as Fauzia Kasuri are dual nationals. Does this mean that she is not loyal to Pakistan? Imran Khan himself was married in England where he lived for part of every year for almost a decade. Maybe he too is a dual national. Does anyone honestly think that he is more loyal to the UK than Pakistan? Ridiculous.

Whatever your political beliefs, it is difficult to argue that any party has been the target of dictators wrath more than PPP. Benazir Bhutto was forced into exile by one military dictator, and her life was sacrificed under the watchful eye of another. But Benazir Bhutto’s political vision – moderate, tolerant, and pro-democracy – did not die. If anything, her martyrdom made it grow stronger, and PPP won the 2008 elections.

Gen Zia, on the other hand, hated democracy and is best known for introducing Islamisation to Pakistan including the draconian Hudood laws. But that is not his only legal legacy. It was also under Gen Zia that Articles 62 and 63 were added to the Constitution – including the language that the Court contends disqualifies dual nationals from joining parliament. It is in this context that we must view the current actions of the Supreme Court regarding dual nationality.

Is it mere coincidence that the first parliamentarian to be suspended is a PPP MNA? Or that she just happens to be married to the former Ambassador Husain Haqqani, another PPP loyalist who was forced to resign without any formal charges or trial? Is it further coincidence that the second parliamentarian to be suspended is the Interior Minister, another PPP loyalist?

In a hearing, the petitioner told the Supreme Court that Former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary, Kanwar Dilshad, has said that there were 35 parliamentarians with dual nationalities. The Court, however, has taken drastic measures against only two parliamentarians – Farahnaz Ispahani and Rehman Malik. Two others are still under scrutiny by the Court – MNA Iftikhar Nazeer (PPP) and MNA Chaudhry Zahid Iqbal (PPP). It appears that the Supreme Court is only concerned with disqualifying PPP members, while ignoring allegations against the 31 others.

Democratic activists and leaders, especially those affiliated with the PPP, were systematically targeted and persecuted by Gen Zia’s forces. They were driven into exile where they regrouped until they could return to their homeland, bringing back the democracy promised by Qaid-e-Azam.

And return they did, smashing the idols of fascist dictatorship and giving back to the people their right to rule themselves. Now, we are being told that we cannot trust the loyalty of these same people because they chose to temporarily leave rather than submit to an illegitimate dictator. The General must be laughing in his grave.

Dual Nationals – A Different View

immigration

The issue of dual nationals is making headlines again. As I noted last December, the ECP decision to bar dual nationals from contesting elections while allowing dual nationals living overseas to vote in elections back home created the bizarre outcome that people who don’t live in Pakistan and have no intention of ever living here can decide elections, but people who actually live here can’t contest elections. Based on the latest petition before the Supreme Court, though, it appears that it’s not all dual nationals that are being targeted, only certain ones.

According to the petitioner, former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan Kanwar Dilshad has said there are 35 parliamentarians with dual nationality. So why is the Supreme Court concerned about 4 MPs only? Is it coincidence that the only four out of 35 possible dual nationality holders being investigated by the Supreme Court are PPP members? Or is the Supreme Court preparing another bargaining chip to use against President Zardari?

It should also be noted that the petition in the case Syed Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi has a history of filing cases against PPP. He petitioned the Supreme Court against Waheeda Shah even though ECP had already taken notice of her case. He petitioned the Supreme Court to overrule the government’s elevation of Justice Gulzar Ahmed to the Supreme Court. He even petitioned the Supreme Court to disqualify every single one of PPP’s Sindh Assembly members in 2011.

But lets leave aside the obvious political games being played in the judiciary and look at the issue of dual nationality from a sober and rational perspective.

How many of our dual nationals are people who traveled overseas to take advantage of some of the world’s best universities, and after taking their degrees were accepted in positions with world class companies where they obtained top level skills and experience that they then brought back home to Pakistan?

Pakistan suffers more than any other country from what is known as ‘brain drain’ – the flight of highly skilled people to countries with more and better paying jobs. Often people are able to get these jobs by starting on a student visa, then getting a temporary work visa after their degree, and then residency or citizenship is often required. They’re not swearing allegiance to some other country, they’re just following the rules so that they can advance in their training and career. Do we really want to send the message that if you make the sacrifice of living overseas to get an education and build expertise in your field…don’t come back?

It is also important to view the issue of dual nationality in a historical perspective. For most of the past 35 years, Pakistan suffered under one military dictatorship or another. Gen. Zia especially treated his political opponents brutally and without mercy. Martial Law Regulation No 53 left an indelible stain on the nation and many families were forced to look for security abroad.

Even during brief periods of democratic rule, politics was a high stakes game that ruined lives. We should remember that before the NRO was spun into a ‘get Zardari’ campaign, it was considered as a way to deal with the fact that the judiciary had become a weapon used against opponents. Just as the Supreme Court seems interested only in 4 cases of dual nationals, it seems to have forgotten that the NRO affected not only Zardari’s case but 8,000 others.

And the dual nationality issue affects every party and political ideology also. Just because the PPP is the only party being targeted by the Supreme Court, we should remember that even Imran Khan has said that dual nationals “should be treated equally”. Actually, PTI is taking much of its funding from foreign countries and some top PTI officers such as Fauzia Kasuri are dual nationals. Does this mean that she is not loyal to Pakistan? Imran Khan himself was married in England where he lived for part of every year for almost a decade. Maybe he too is a dual national. Does anyone honestly think that he is more loyal to the UK than Pakistan? Ridiculous.

All of this points to one conclusion – compared with the serious issues facing the nation – terrorism, law and order, economy, energy – the issue of dual nationals in parliament is a non-issue. Rather than making a blanket accusation against someone’s loyalty when you don’t know the true background of their case, anyone who thinks an MP is acting against the interests of the nation should point to specific things that that person is doing. If the people who elected them determine them be untrustworthy, they can choose to replace them in the next election. In the meantime, stop wasting the government’s time with non-issues so that the elected representatives of the people can deal with real ones.

Strange outcome of ECP’s dual standard

ballots

ECP has barred dual nationality holders from contesting elections, it was reported today. ECP has also declared that it is re-considering a proposal expanding the right to vote to people who aren’t Pakistani nationals.

The strange outcome of ECP’s dual standard, obviously, will be that people who don’t live in Pakistan and have no intention of ever living here can decide elections, but people who actually live here can’t contest elections.