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Our Right to Know

About the same time as Secretary Clinton and other powerful members of the ‘Company Bahadur’ were landing at Islamabad airport last week, a US citizen was quietly assuming his responsibilities as the Governor State Bank of Pakistan. There are others who enjoy the unique distinction of being Pakistan’s ambassadors in their own countries. A week earlier the Governor of Sindh a British subject, in complete violation of the university rules awarded an honorary PhD degree to a fellow British citizen, who also doubles as the Interior Minister of Pakistan. The Leader of MQM has taken oath of loyalty to the Queen of England, her heirs and successors, while the Auditor General of Pakistan is a Canadian citizen. Dozens of other constitutional appointment holders including an estimated 30-40% of all Parliamentarians possess foreign nationalities and owe their loyalties to other countries.

This is despite Article 63 (1) of the constitution which clearly states that a person shall be disqualified from beingelected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), if he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state. It took some 150 years before the East India Company could begin to place British officers in position of authority in India. It took much lesser for the new imperial order to do so in Pakistan.

There is evidence to suggest that the phenomenon of foreigners occupying top decision making slots in Pakistan is far deeper, widespread and systemic. Who all and how many is a closely guarded secret and foolproof mechanisms are in place to protect this information from getting public. The only lawful recourse for a citizen to uncover this information is by invoking the ‘Freedom of Information’ law. Unfortunately this law is one of the most talked about (‘seminar prone’) and least utilized laws of Pakistan. It has the great ability to defeat, deny, cover-up, remain silent or deflect any attempts at seeking any information, and there is nothing one can do about it. Here are some examples of how all the government functionaries suddenly closed ranks and took a common stand on hiding the truth, trashing the law and refusing to provide any information about hundreds of foreigners who hold vital constitutional and decision making assignments in Pakistan.

On Sept.12, 2009, under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance 2002, I requested the Ministry of Information Islamabad to provide names of all parliamentarians, Ministers and Senators who hold nationality, passport, green card or permanent residence for any other country, besides Pakistan. When no response was received for four months, the Wafaqi Mohtasib was approached to order the Interior Ministry to do what they ought to have done in 21 days. On the intervention of Wafaqi Mohtasib (letter HQR/0000854/10 dated 27-01-2010) the Ministry of Information sent an interesting response (Letter 3/2/2009-citz dated Feb.11, 2010) stating that “this subject does not relate to the Ministry of Interior and falls within the domain of Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs.” This bureaucratic technique of not providing the information may also called ‘denial through deflection’.

The dead FOI law was flogged once again and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs was asked to provide the information on those who hold dual nationalities. The Ministry’s response (F.23.35/2000-PA-Admn dated 27thApril 2010) was simple. “The information is neither available nor falls within the ambit of this Ministry and may be obtained from other organizations such as Cabinet Division, National Assembly, Senate etc.” It was getting clear that the concerned ministries were using the standard operating procedure of ‘passing the buck’ to hide the information on the foreigners who rule this country. Without waiting for further ‘ask so and so” responses, in May 2010, I decided to directly seek this information from five key institutions, the National Assembly, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senate, Cabinet Division and of course the most concerned (and the least interested) – the Election Commission of Pakistan.

As expected, there was a stony silence from all five departments and the Wafaqi Mohtasib had to be once again requested to intervene. The response however was only a repeat of what others had said before – “we have no information and this subject does not fall within our ambit”. One can only conclude that there is not a single ministry or department in Pakistan that either knows or is willing to provide information on the foreigners who sit in our assemblies and hold various key appointments. The only bewildering piece of information that trickled through this watertight information prevention network was a response from National Assembly Secretariat (Letter no. 8-1/2010-C&L dated 22nd July 2010). It states “as per available CVs, 259 of the Members of National Assembly, the Honourable Members hold Pakistani Nationality”. The response is worth placing in a museum to demonstrate the apathy and disinterest of a Parliament in finding out the nationality of its remaining 83 MNAs or to determine if the 259 “Pakistani” MNAs hold a dual nationality or not. Are we as citizens not entitled to know the ‘other’ nationality of our rulers and also establish if they will throw their weight behind Pakistan or a foreign country in a situation of moral or military conflict?

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