The oaths they take

imageAs a result of the recent suspensions of some members of the National Assembly for holding dual nationality, the federal cabinet has approved an amendment bill. This bill, if approved by the National Assembly, would allow dual nationals to participate in the next election and will also permit the ones currently suspended to continue their term.

According to statistics, more than 44% of the migrants and temporary workers from Pakistan reside in GCC countries. Since these countries do not allow permanent citizenship, UK and US are the only remaining countries which host a majority of the Pakistani expats, i.e. around 24%. Some of these Pakistanis hold a dual citizenship as well.

One argument given by many proponents of allowing the dual nationals to hold public offices is that any dual national is as much a citizen of Pakistan as any other Pakistani. “Why don’t you trust the dual nationals?”, they ask. Let’s try to examine what this trust requires in terms of official oaths and allegiances which some countries demand from their citizens. I’ll focus on the oaths of UK and US only but the argument presented here can be extended to other countries well.

The oath of allegiance required for being a US citizen starts off with this text:

I hereby declare, on oath, that 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; …

It is quite clear that any Pakistani national who recites this oath would have to renounce his allegiances to Pakistan (I assume here of course that a good person won’t lie under oath, would he?).

The UK counterpart oath contains:

… on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law.

In the accompanying pledge, the new citizen is required to declare their loyalty to the United Kingdom. While the UK version is much milder and does not demand the refutation of any prior fidelity, both oaths force us to ask some fundamental questions. What does the word ‘allegiance’ mean? What isloyalty’? How are these ideas interpreted by the dual nationals who may represent the Pakistani citizens?

Although answers to these critical questions may require a deep dive in the murky waters of semantics, etymology or even philosophy, there is very little chance in the today’s world that anyone can hold similar but conflict-free allegiances towards two different countries. There have been many incidents in the recent past where policy decisions of Pakistan were not in line with those of US or UK. It would also be naïve to assume that we cannot expect such political bifurcations to occur in the future.

Realistically speaking, we cannot claim that Pakistan has really been free of foreign influences since its inception. With the advent of media providing real time news at a click — be it on the mouse or the TV remote — it is very difficult for any country or even any individual to live without any direct or indirect influence from a decision taken outside their local boundaries. The world is affecting things around us and to keep our eyes closed is no longer an option. This has forced many people into an honest introspection about their identity and allegiances in the context of multiple nation states. More and more dual nationals have to face such questions every year as they line up to take these oaths at citizenship ceremonies. It is no doubt more difficult to answer them if you are a public representative in one of your countries of citizenship.

According to the constitution of Pakistan, the oath taken by a member of parliament states that they will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan. Although not holding a dual nationality does not imply that a representative will have this allegiance, its presence does, however, point towards the highly probable consequence that the people of Pakistan may end up electing an individual who needs to clearly explain his ideological stance. Taking a more logical approach, there are two binary variables are at play here. Assuming that the definitions of allegiance and loyalty are quite near in the concept space, there are only four possible outcomes.

1. The individual is loyal to neither Pakistan nor the other country.

2. The individual is not loyal to Pakistan but is loyal to the other country.

3. The individual is loyal to Pakistan and not the other country.

4. The individual is loyal to Pakistan as well the other country.

The first two options are against the Pakistani oath. The latter two are against the oaths of the other country. Assuming that the people of Pakistan do not want any such individual to represent them who is confused about his own oaths, it can get rather difficult to find a way out of this. If there is, however, an interpretation which allows for a resolution of this fundamental conflict or determines a priority of loyalties when two conflicting ones are at play, the public has a right to know about it.

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