The Supreme Court has suspended Ms Frahnaz Ispahani from membership of the National Assembly for being a US citizen. It has also given four days to MNAs Zahid Iqbal and Iftikhar Nazir, as well as Senator and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, to give proof of their renunciation of British citizenship. There is another difference: while the UK allows dual nationality, the USA does not. Thus, while those undergoing naturalization as British citizens do not necessarily give up their original citizenship, those naturalized as American citizens not only have to abjure any previous citizenship, but also have to take the American oath of allegiance, which involves an oath to defend the USA even to the extent of bearing arms.

With so many Pakistanis going abroad to work, it was almost inevitable that a large number would attempt to obtain the citizenship of the host country so that they could obtain greater security there. It was also probably natural for such overseas Pakistanis to seek to take part in the political life of their home country.

However, while no one will deny Ms Ispahani the right to obtain whatever legal redress is available to her, her case, which resulted from petition in the Supreme Court, raises important and fundamental questions, such as whether a free country can allow the citizens of another to be one of its legislators. As pointed out by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, if membership is allowed, a foreign national could become Prime Minister, or even a minister. The attempt to argue that dual nationality laws applied apparently did not wash with the Court. The Interior Minister claimed to have applied in 2008 for a citizenship renunciation certificate, so the court gave him a little more time to produce it. Such persons as have obtained the citizenship of other countries may be ab initio unqualified from contesting, and it seems that the petitioner only knew of the five members named in the petition, and there may well be others.

The Supreme Court may well wish to hear another case involving an MNA’s qualification, for it also seized of the matter after it has convicted the Prime Minister for contempt, and it is perhaps coincidental but not devoid of symbolic importance, that the Court has disqualified an MNA for being an American citizen, just one day after Dr Shakeel Afridi was convicted of being an American spy. The government has expressed its readiness to hold by-elections if the opposition resigns, so it should be ready to fill Ms Ispahani’s seat. It must, however, be noted here that Parliament has lost a most effective and active member and one hopes that Ms Ispahani is reinducted after the necessary legal steps are taken.