By Syed Atiq ul Hassan
Around 10 million Pakistanis live outside Pakistan – one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. They are called overseas Pakistanis. The majority of overseas Pakistanis live in the Middle East and then Europe and the USA. Significant numbers of Pakistanis living in Europe and the USA hold dual nationalities or permanent residency. The main reason for Pakistanis is living abroad are economical, professional, and educational opportunities. These overseas Pakistanis regularly send money to Pakistan. According to credible sources overseas Pakistanis send about US$13 billion every year, and this is a massive support to Pakistan’s economy. Then whenever there is a need for financial assistance to Pakistan or the Pakistani government, any scheme of fundraising to help Pakistanis due to any natural disaster, health or economic crises, overseas Pakistanis take the lead in comparison to everyone else. Therefore, the overseas Pakistanis are proven, at times, to be the loyal, committed and fruitful source in making Pakistan’s economy stronger.
Overseas Pakistanis living abroad for a longer period of time are found to be experienced professionals, business owners, educationists, scientists, and industrialists of international repute. They are very well established economically, professionally, and socially in their countries of residence. Attached profoundly and emotionally with Pakistan, they always intend to go back and serve their native land. The overseas Pakistanis are an excellent resource for Pakistan in almost in every field.
Many overseas Pakistanis participate in local politics, media, and public services in their country of residence, where they debate and promote the ideology of Pakistan and the geopolitical importance of Pakistan on the world map. They are true ambassadors of Pakistan and defend Pakistan on every available forum. They introduce and promote Pakistan’s geopolitical issues, particularly on Kashmir and its disputes with neighbouring India. As a matter of fact, on many occasions, overseas Pakistanis do a better job than the official diplomats of Pakistan in promoting Pakistan’s image for instance on various regional and international issues using various platforms. No one forces them to do these things, yet this is their absolute character of loyalty to Pakistan.
Today, a significant number of top scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs in Pakistan who are playing a pivotal role in the development of the country are dual nationals.
Overseas Pakistanis in many countries are legally allowed to hold dual nationalities. Unfortunately, these dual national Pakistanis don’t receive equal and fair chance to serve Pakistan in many fields. For example, dual national Pakistanis don’t have full rights in the electoral system and are not allowed to contest in the elections at any level. They are also not allowed to have key positions in many departments. The reason is given that dual national Pakistanis may sabotage the country’s secrets or may target to achieve their short-term goals in Pakistan and return to their country of residence anytime. It may make sense; nevertheless, the point is this can be done by any Pakistani even not holding citizenship of any other country but a permanent citizen of other countries. There is not much difference, especially in the western world, people holding citizenship or permanent residency. Many current politicians who hold green cards and permanent residencies of other countries have built their huge assets in western countries. Many parliamentarians who don’t hold dual nationality but hold permanent residencies of the western countries often spend much time in USA and Europe. These top politicians today often travel to England even to hold political meetings. Their loyalty with Pakistan has always been a question mark? Therefore, the problem is not in Pakistanis dual nationality, instead it is the loophole in the system which permits them to do wrong things and escape.
Today, the world is open for every person of any country. For example, in Australia, people from more than 150 nationalities live together, and every 3rd person either was born outside Australia, or his/her parents were born outside Australia, a significant number of people hold dual nationality including Pakistani Australians. No one has any problem with their other nationality. They can apply for any job of any level; however, they do have limitations in participating elections at the provincial or national level.
It is unfair and unjust that dual national Pakistanis can vote in the electoral process if they are in Pakistan at the time of election but cannot contest in the poll at any level of the electoral process. Dual nationals can vote someone but cannot ask for a vote from others – this is unfair.
As the Citizenship Act 1951 has been amended many times to meet the demands of the people of Pakistan. The present government of Imran Khan has announced many incentives to overseas Pakistanis, but most of them revolved around appealing overseas Pakistanis to send more money to Pakistan. Whereas, there are many issues, and problems are faced by Pakistanis, particularly when they visit to Pakistan, for example, facilities at the airport, custom duties, restrictions on useable items they bring with them into Pakistan, voting facility for overseas Pakistanis and so on.
The government of Pakistan maintains the ‘Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF)’ and a ministry for overseas Pakistanis affairs with a full-time federal minister for overseas Pakistanis. However, the Pakistani government never involve prominent and true representatives of Pakistani community leaders in different countries. The government of Pakistan never engages leaders of overseas Pakistani community into the affair of appointing diplomats, diplomats dealing with overseas Pakistanis’ issues, and the minister for overseas Pakistanis. Especially in those countries where Pakistanis are living in millions, local community leaders must be engaged without any political prejudice when Pakistani leadership and government are making decisions for overseas Pakistanis or when diplomates and bureaucrats for foreign affairs are appointed. Similarly, a senior local Pakistani community leader should be appointed in diplomatic offices who can liaise between the Pakistani community and diplomatic offices. In this way, the issues and problems of the overseas Pakistani community can be appropriately addressed and resolved. (The writer is a Sydney-based senior member of the Pakistani community, writer, journalist and Head of Think Tank Pakistani Overseas Community Global, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org )