Its Not Rule of Law But Law of the Ruler That Matters
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.
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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'