The whole question of nationality has once again been highlighted by the expiry of the Election Commission of Pakistan deadline for all members of Parliament or the Provincial Assemblies to submit affidavits of not being dual nationals.

The current concept of nationality within the people is at odds with the theoretical concept, and it appears that rather than being some form of commitment to the country of which citizenship is held, being a dual national a desirable good. So desirable, it seems, that 16 legislators have not submitted the requisite affidavits, and thus are prepared, it seems, to give up the desirable good of membership of an assembly, in order to retain that of the foreign nationality.

Foreign nationality is of value to those who want to enjoy respect abroad. Especially, it means residence in the country of nationality as a matter of right, and without the various limitations, especially of duration, implicit in a visa.

Dual nationality provisions have afforded many overseas Pakistanis this facility, and they have found that there are two corollaries. Firstly, it is easier to obtain a passport and secondly, the passports obtained are given more respect abroad (in third countries) than Pakistani ones. Perhaps because of this, they are prized and seen as one of the rewards of being an economic migrant.

They also represent a form of security, implying a protection not available to other Pakistanis. Thus, it is that citizenship of a European or North American country, mostly the UK or the USA, are seen as desirable. That they are desirable enough to prefer over a legislator’s status is, perhaps, more a comment on the Pakistani state than on the legislators, especially the state’s inability to take care of its citizens.

Be that as it may, the popular concept of citizenship does not take account of the direction of loyalty implied. It is not stressed enough that the evidence of cleverness actually implies that loyalty has shifted from one country to another. It should be remembered that citizenship is as two-way street: in exchange for access to certain privileges, the state expects obedience to its commands and a safeguarding of its interests.

The desire for foreign nationality has struck many, and one result of economic migration is that some have struck it rich, and want this acknowledged by getting politically acknowledged in the home country. The reason they contest the election is because they still feel Pakistani, not having transferred their loyalty to the new country. However, the new country does command that loyalty. This creates potential conflicts of interest.

One example became apparent from Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah, who resigned from the Sindh Assembly, instead of submitting an affidavit. As Finance Minister, he would be privy to all the decisions made by the Sindh government about projects receiving foreign aid.

The Supreme Court also mentioned about the members being on committees related to national security, but there is the case of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who preferred his Ministry over British citizenship, which he renounced, though he had to contest the Senate election all over again. That might indicate why members not only did not submit affidavits, but also resigned.

One reason would be to avoid any situation in which they were subject to such strictures as would prevent them from contesting elections again. However, Mr Malik is not just a minister, but by virtue of his portfolio also a member of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, which decided on the restoration of Nato supplies only recently.

True, one minister does not make a decision, but he could provide a voice. At worst, he could provide accurate information. Yet, it is the information that is of premium value, and does not need a ministry to obtain.

Another factor that has added itself to the debate is that of the coming elections. The failure to file affidavits will not result in by-elections if the seats are declared vacant, as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has declared that the December 4 by-elections were the last of the current Assemblies, and any further vacancies would be filled in the general election. Thus, while the initial disqualifications led to the current by-elections, any subsequent vacancies for virtually the same reason.

This is because of the constitutional provision saying that the CEC is not supposed to conduct any by-election when less than 120 days remain in the tenure of the Assemblies. So the CEC was actually doing something that had not been otherwise done: specify the minimum term of Parliament, at 120 days.

By refusing to conduct by-elections anymore, the CEC is also preventing the affected legislators from attempting to return to the Assemblies, which would not be a particularly attractive proposition anyway.

Also, as some of the affected legislators belong to the MQM, they would need that party’s ticket to return to the Assemblies.

Quite apart from the fate of individual legislators, the MQM has also faced problems with the Supreme Court that has ordered not just a fresh delimitation of Karachi’s seats, which provides the MQM the majority of both its National and Sindh Assembly delegations, but also a fresh verification of the city’s voters’ lists, with army and frontier corps help.

The MQM is, thus, at the centre of the current political controversy as they lead up to the general elections, even though it would probably prefer to be out of them, and though it has changed its position, is still seen as a regional party with support mainly in the urban areas of Sindh, which will not be in a better position than at present, where it is in office as a junior partner both in the centre and the province.

For the MQM, perhaps more than for the two major parties, the nationality issue assumes greater importance because of the impending general election. First of all, they will have to add the nationality issue to their checklists when awarding tickets. It should be remembered that while members with dual nationality have been found, a corollary is that many defeated candidates would be dual nationals, some of whom will apply for tickets again. They should be refused!

This, in turn, means that fighting an election will not be an option for the returning economic migrant, not unless he is willing to renounce the foreign nationality acquired as ‘part of the territory’. There might be some support for candidates who are citizens, but the parties’ need for candidates with money to burn will not meet the economic migrant’s need for self-actualisation. It is probable that some other means of self-actualisation will develop, whereby economic migrants cut a figure in Pakistan, but politics might be ruled out.

The problem lies in the concept of nationality and citizenship, and of loyalty and allegiance. Pakistanis inherited their concept from the UK, but they do not seem to have fully internalised it. They must learn that if they regard another citizenship as merely a convenience rather than a commitment, they will measure Pakistani citizenship by the same standard.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of TheNation.  Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk