Pakistan, once again, is embroiled in the controversy of dual citizens holding public offices. The latest resignations of high-profile Special Assistants to Prime Minister, Ms. Tania Aidrus and Dr. Zafar Mirza, has raised the debate of whether it is morally right and in the national interest to serve Pakistan while supposedly pledging your allegiance to another country.
Interestingly, this issue is not uniquely associated with Pakistan. It is also a fiercely debated topic in other countries, with some being as lenient as to let the dual national holders become the head of states, while, on the other extreme, stripping even common citizens from their birth nationality in case they acquire another.
Many countries don’t allow dual citizenship at all to their citizens — Austria, China, Japan, India, and Indonesia are among them.
And interestingly, even Pakistan only allows dual citizenship to limited countries, 19 in total, that include Australia, Belgium, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, United Kingdom, and the United States.
In terms of becoming a part of the government, besides Pakistan, countries that do not let dual citizens become members of parliament include Egypt, Armenia, Israel, Australia as well as the Philippines.
With a few caveats and clauses, dual citizens are currently welcome in the parliaments of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand. But there are certain rules that they are bound to follow to avoid conflict of interest. For instance, in New Zealand, a parliamentarian once elected cannot actively become a citizen of another country, and in the US, the President and Vice President must be natural-born citizens.
Interestingly, Pakistan is also not unique in terms of controversies related to government officials holding dual nationalities
In 2019, Somali President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo, renounced his American citizenship after getting elected. In a press release, the President stated that he voluntarily filed for the renunciation even though Somalia’s Provisional Constitution allows for dual citizenship. It was well-received by the general public, however, it stirred a heated debate since a number of Somalia’s political leadership are dual citizens.
Similarly, in 2018, former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship by Ukraine's President. Saakashvili had previously abandoned his Georgian citizenship so he could take up a major anti-corruption assignment in Ukraine.
However, when his Ukrainian citizenship was canceled, he pledged to return to the country to mobilize his supporters there, in defiance of Ukrainian President’s decision. But since there was no way he could travel anywhere as a stateless human being, he has not been able to return to either Ukraine or Georgia. He is rumored to be currently residing in the Netherlands.
Also, Ted Cruz, the infamous US senator, was born both the U.S. and a Canadian dual citizen because he was born in Alberta, Canada but to a U.S. citizen mother. He renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014. Supposedly, Cruz was unaware of his Canadian citizenship until 2013. When it was brought to his attention, he took steps to remove doubt about where his loyalties lay, doing so voluntarily without the force of any legislative act but under media exposure and pressure.
And most of us are aware of how Arnold Schwarzenegger served as the Governor of California while holding dual Austrian American citizenship. People give examples of Shaukat Aziz and Moeen Qureshi as dual-citizen politicians who harmed Pakistan’s interests and fled abroad. But it is not established as fact that they held second passports. Moreover, while one can criticize their specific policies, it is hard to argue that they were more harmful than those of other rulers, some of whom also fled abroad despite not holding dual citizenship.
The purpose of presenting these facts is to point out that this issue is not unique to Pakistan and therefore must be addressed without the political lens of loyalty to the country. Having a second passport offers extreme convenience, and given the country’s political uncertainty hardly anyone skilled and talented would give this up to work for this country, as we are seeing with the current set of resignations.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, one can argue that allegiance can become an issue as it may provide an easy route to escape accountability in case of a political misdemeanor. I will end this piece on a controversial note by stating a phrase from the US oath of allegiance for naturalized citizens.
“I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”
So, are we comfortable with officials serving in the government who have categorically stated that they renounce allegiance to the very state that they are a part of? Or is their expertise vital enough for the country to let the aforementioned statement slide by as a procedural requirement?