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The Irrelevant Controversy Over US Citizenship of PM-in-Waiting Shaukat Aziz

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON, July 18: The controversy whether PM-in-waiting, Shaukat Aziz, is or is not, a US citizen is irrelevant as the Constitution of Pakistan categorically states that any Pakistani who acquires citizenship of a Foreign State shall stand disqualified from being elected as a member of Parliament.

The disqualification clause has already been invoked in the case of at least one sitting Senator, Azam Swati of MMA, who was a US citizen and who had to renounce his US citizenship before his papers for Senate nomination were accepted in 2002.

Shaukat Aziz, who has lived abroad for all his working life and has settled in the US, living in the posh Manhattan high rise compound, 100-UN Plaza, a property worth over two million dollars, has himself created the controversy around his citizenship, possibly for political reasons.

He has been attacked by the Opposition on this count in the media and even on the Senate floor where he made his first appearance with the new PM Choudhry Shujaat Hussain recently. Opposition senators wanted a direct yes or no answer from Aziz whether or not he was a US citizen but he kept his response vague just declaring that he was a Pakistani.

Yet in an interview with Mariana Babar of The News on Sunday, Aziz came closest to clarifying the issue by saying he was a Green Card holder and had never obtained the US passport.

Two of the closest of people in New York, a senior journalist and a doctor associated with PPP, have separately stated to me that as far as they knew Aziz had never obtained the US citizenship.

One of them said he had traveled with Aziz abroad several times and as recently as a few months back and he always saw a Pakistani Green Passport in his hand, not a Blue US book.

Likewise the other friend said he was 100 per cent sure that Aziz was not a US citizen.

These statements coupled with the Mariana Babar's interview make it quite evident that Aziz was sure of how he was handling this issue. He has been unruffled by the criticism and has remained cool and confident, despite quite provocative attacks, right at his face in the Senate and elsewhere.

By contrast Aziz’s reaction to the other attack that he was a Qadyani or an Ahmedi, was instant and fierce as he considered that charge to be explosive if it stuck, no matter whether it was right or wrong.

Many refer to the case of Interim Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi, who also came from the US and became the PM. But in his case as well it was clear that Mr Qureshi had never acquired the US citizenship and was only a Green Card holder, travelling all the time on a Pakistani passport.

A former diplomat of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington confirmed to me that he always handled Mr Qureshi's passport whenever it came for renewal or any other consular service.

The Pakistan Constitution Article 63, which deals with qualifications and disqualifications of becoming a member of Parliament, reads in part:

63- (1) A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), if -
(a) he is of unsound mind and has been so declared by a competent court; or
(b) he is an undischarged insolvent; or
(c) he ceases to be citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a Foreign State; or…… the list goes on until sub-section p, q, r and s.

It was this sub-section (c) which forced Senator Azam Swati to forego his US citizenship and also forced another US-based politician of PML-Q, Omar Ghumman to declare that he was not a US citizen, at least at the time of filing his nomination papers.

Shaukat Aziz must have also declared that he was not a US citizen before contesting for the Senate seat in 2002 and that is why he appears cool on the issue because by behaving in that way, he is distracting the Opposition from attacking him on other potentially more damaging issues.

Legal experts say Article 63 is so clear it cannot be affected in any way by any dual citizenship laws which allow a Pakistani to keep his Pakistani citizenship along with US or British citizenship. Laws do not override the Constitution.

The US laws on dual citizenship are also vague and in case Shaukat Aziz was a citizen and became the Prime Minister, the US law may not threaten him in any way.

Section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the section of law that governs the ability of a United States citizen to renounce his or her US citizenship. On 16 April 1990, though, the State Department adopted a new set of guidelines for handling dual citizenship cases which are much more streamlined and liberal than before.

The State Department now says that it will assume that a US citizen intends to retain (not give up) his US citizenship if he:

1. is naturalized in a foreign country;
2. takes a routine oath of allegiance to a foreign country; or
3. accepts foreign government employment that is of a "non-policy-level" nature.

Apparently, a "routine oath of allegiance" to another country is no longer taken as firm evidence of intent to give up US citizenship, even if said oath includes a renunciation of US citizenship.

This presumption that someone intends to keep US citizenship does not apply to a person who:
4. takes a "policy-level" position in a foreign country;
5. is convicted of treason against the US; or
6. engages in "conduct which is so inconsistent with retention of U.S. citizenship that it compels a conclusion that [he] intended to relinquish U.S. citizenship."

The State Department says that cases of these kinds will be examined carefully to determine the person's intent. They also say that cases falling under the last criterion mentioned above (conduct wholly inconsistent with intent to keep US citizenship) are presumed to be "very rare."

In Shaukat Aziz’s case, the US will be more than happy to allow him to retain his US citizenship, if he has one, and become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

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