WASHINGTON DC, July 13, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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In Pakistan Its Not Rule of Law But Law of the Ruler That Matters

By Husain Haqqani

WASHINGTON, July 13: The hesitation of the Pakistani authorities in issuing a new passport to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif highlights Pakistan’s greatest weakness. Pakistan is a country run on the whims of its rulers rather than on the basis of its constitution and laws enacted by elected legislatures.

Under Pakistani law, every citizen is entitled to a passport upon presentation of proof of citizenship, usually a national identity card. There is no dispute that Mr. Sharif is a Pakistani citizen. The Government’s claim that he agreed on December 9, 2000, under a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia, to live in exile for an unspecified period is irrelevant to his right to a passport as a citizen. How can an unlawful deal between a captor and a captive trump one’s citizenship rights?

In any case, the Government has failed to produce the agreement it claims was reached between the Sharif family at the time Mr. Sharif was released from prison and sent into exile. Mr. Sharif was toppled in a coup d’etat in 1999 and imprisoned, later to be charged with several “crimes.”

If he was, as the military Government claimed, a criminal, General Musharraf had no right to release and pardon him without completing the due process of law. If, however, he was innocent, there was no justification in imprisoning him simply because the military found him to be unworthy of running the country.

In either case, where does Pakistan’s constitution (even after its many mutilations) empower the Chief of Army Staff to deprive a Pakistani of the right to return to his country or to secure a passport for travel abroad?

Even if General Musharraf’s claim is right and Mr. Sharif went into exile voluntarily, the alleged agreement was political rather than a legally binding one. If General Musharraf can go back on his political agreement with the Opposition regarding relinquishing his military uniform at the end of 2004 due to changed circumstances, what prevents Mr. Sharif from backing out of his unwritten commitment not to return to Pakistan?

In any case, what does any of this have to do with Mr. Sharif’s right to possess a Pakistani passport? Not long ago, Pakistani authorities appeared to link renewing Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s passport to knowing her travel plans.

Ms Bhutto and Mr. Sharif’s are General Musharraf’s political challengers. The General has a political interest in keeping them in exile. But the question of when and how a Pakistani citizenship gets his or her passport should be a matter of law not of political expediency.

One has read several news stories about how different branches of Pakistan’s Government, from the intelligence services to the Interior Ministry and the Foreign office, are waiting for General Musharraf’s decision on whether or not a passport is to be issued to Mr. Sharif.

This leads to a question that would best be answered by the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Sir Mark Lyall-Grant, who recently took it upon himself to declare that the current system of governance in Pakistan cannot be called a dictatorship. What other word in the English language describes a system of governance where basic decisions such as whether a citizen gets his passport or not are made by one man and not on the basis of well-defined laws?

Not long ago, General Musharraf acknowledged that he had ordered the inclusion of rape victim Mukhtaran Mai’s on the Exit Control List (ECL). Mukhtaran Mai’s passport was also taken away by officials, only to be returned to her after intervention by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. General Musharraf claimed he took these steps to prevent Mukhtaran Mai being manipulated by some NGOs into spoiling Pakistan’s image.

Ironically, the Exit Control List is meant to prevent criminals and those under investigation for crimes from leaving the country. Nothing in the law gives the country’s ruler the right to put a rape victim on the ECL even if the purpose of such restrictions is to protect the country’s image.

Once again, Her Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner might care to introduce us to the political science term in the English language that describes an unelected ruler whose word becomes law and whose definition of national interest can only be changed by him.

The reluctance of the Government to issue Mr. Nawaz Sharif his passport is not the first time in Pakistan’s history that citizenship rights have been arbitrarily determined by the country’s rulers. In 1971, after the creation of Bangladesh, several hundred thousand Pakistani citizens were stranded in their country’s former Eastern wing. These people and their families had migrated from India to Pakistan at the time of the 1947 partition to become Pakistani citizens.

When the country was torn into two, they chose to remain Pakistanis and demanded the right to come to the remaining part of Pakistan. Any other country would have recognized that right without any argument and arranged for their repatriation. But successive Pakistani Governments argued that the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh would upset the ethnic balance in West Pakistan and put an undue burden on the country’s economy.

In a tragic farce, General Ziaul Haq’s military regime tied repatriation of Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh to availability of international assistance. Saudi Arabia helped create a trust to fund the return of Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh to Pakistan. But since when are citizenship rights a matter of economics?

What other country has refused to allow its citizens the right to return to their homeland on grounds that the Government did not have enough money left from its defense spending to enable them to live in their own country? The Pakistanis in Bangladesh should have been issued Pakistani passports based on their citizenship and their inalienable right of return to their country of citizenship. They would have found a way of eking out a living just as tens of millions of other Pakistanis do.

The military-bureaucratic complex that controls Pakistan’s destiny saw the matter, not from the lens of citizenship rights but from the prism of its ability to manage the country. That management approach, where the boss is always right, contributes to Pakistanis having a lesser sense and feeling of citizenship than in many other countries.

Not only are Pakistan’s citizens not allowed to choose their own rulers, the country’s rulers arrogate to themselves the authority of determining whether a citizen has any rights at all or not.

The disregard for law in relation to passports, but in the reverse direction, was witnessed in 1993 when the Pakistani military wanted to install Mr. Moeen Qureshi as caretaker Prime Minister. Mr. Qureshi had lived in the United States for several decades, had taken up US citizenship and by most accounts had not regularly renewed his Pakistani passport or obtained a Pakistani National identity card.

Mr. Qureshi was issued both his national identity card and passport in Singapore so that he would not arrive in the country without these documents before becoming Prime Minister. He was, of course, entitled to Pakistani citizenship and there is no reason to impugn his commitment or services to Pakistan.

The issue is that it was not Mr. Qureshi’s right as a dual citizen but rather the desire of the army commander at the time to name him caretaker Prime Minister that secured him his passport. Had it been a matter of right, Mr. Sharif’s right to a passport would have received the same attention at the Pakistani Consulate in Jeddah that Mr. Qureshi’s did at the Pakistan Embassy in Singapore.

The writer is a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Associate Professor of International Relations at Boston University. He is the author of the forthcoming book 'Pakistan Between Mosque and Military'

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