Pakistan, from its very inception, has been reliant on foreign aid and is now being forced to accept interference in national elections via casting of foreign votes. Despite gaining independence from a foreign colonial power, the country has never been able to reduce its dependence on foreign aid in one form or the other. Ever since the founding fathers and the champions of national security decided that Pakistan was to be a western ally against communism, the country has depended upon foreign financial aid for its military and socioeconomic needs.
Furthermore, the Pakistani expats who started emigrating to Europe in the 1950s and North America in the 1960s also provided steady relief to their families back home in the form of foreign exchange. However, it is to the credit of Zulfiqar Bhutto who relaxed the policy of issuing passports to common people that led to a massive influx of foreign exchange via the working class who went to the Middle East like a shoal of fish in the 1970s.
Statistically speaking 80 percent of foreign remittances to Pakistan is sent from the Middle East where only 20 percent of expat Pakistanis live. These Pakistanis do not have dual nationalities as the gulf states and KSA do not have any such policy. However, it is the 80 percent dual national Pakistanis living in Europe and North America who are expected to be staunch supporters of PTI – the party that is part of the current hybrid setup. These expats are well-settled and have no plans of repatriating whatsoever to where they came from. Yet they are considered potential voters of Imran Khan by virtue of their regular generous contributions to fundraising being done since the 1990s for SKMT and PTI.
Where these funds in billions of dollars have really gone is a question begging to be answered as part of the PTI foreign funding case. However, PTI knows very well that these dual national Pakistanis settled in the western countries are least bothered about transparency of funds due to their blind faith in the winning captain of 1992 cricket world cup.
Historically, the region that makes up this land of the pure has either been ruled by foreign invaders from the West or fodder for induction into the British Army and now as part of a hybrid setup, by a martial race of self-claimed custodians of the national security state.
For a country that will celebrate its diamond jubilee next year, its twenty-three-crore people are being considered children of a lesser god and deemed unfit to select their own government.
The current hybrid regime wants to use a few million who on their own free will moved to greener pastures in Europe and North Americas, to help re-elect them in the upcoming elections. That we are having this debate itself is preposterous and ludicrous. But then in a country which has yet to achieve self-reliance despite being a nuclear power, irrationality is the order of the day.
Perhaps the British colonial era and time spent in his youth in Britain has left an indelible impression in the mind of Imran Khan, whose own sons preferred to settle there.
The narcissist Khan Sahib is hell bent on taking revenge for failures in his personal life on the people of Pakistan. Once a staunch opponent of any role for dual nationals in Pakistani politics, he has taken another typical U-turn to play havoc with the future of a country already in shambles.
Holding dual nationality is just like having two wives – one a desi brown wife and other one, a white wife. In many cases, these dual nationalities have expanded into holding multiple citizenships, similar to polygamy. I use the word multiple for the reason that a lot of expatriate Pakistanis now hold multiple nationalities at the same time. Those who once immigrated to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada later on settled in the USA and acquired their citizenship. It is difficult to handle two wives but having multiple citizenship is even trickier. The only purpose for holding so many passports seems to be solely for international travel and when in Pakistan publicly flaunt their multiple passports. These Pakistanis with multiple nationalities chose to work and live in their adopted countries on their own free will. They have no stakes in Pakistan except for drawing room discussions in their palatial homes. Their interest in Pakistani politics is merely lip service just to keep their children aware of where they came from so that the social values can be passed onto the next generation.
In the USA, the oldest democracy in the world, dual nationals can vote only if they physically reside in one of the fifty states
Dual nationality voting is virtually non-existent in most flourishing democracies. It neither exists in the EU nor in India, the largest democracy in the world. In fact, the Indian government does not allow dual nationality at all and non-resident Indians (NRI) are not allowed to vote except when they are physically present in India.
In the USA, the oldest democracy in the world, dual nationals can vote only if they physically reside in one of the fifty states. The US mail-in ballot process for absentee voters including uniformed service members and their families based overseas is one of the most stringent with strict penalties for violation or voter fraud. Such ballots have to be received by a certain date before the election day and are counted separately after regular votes have been counted. The 2020 US elections are the most recent example of how non-regular votes can be a potential source of chaos and disorder. The entire world saw how an incumbent outgoing president tried to disrupt the transition. If this could happen in the US, the mayhem and chaos overseas voting by internet let alone mail-in ballots can create in an already fissured Pakistani political landscape is beyond the stretch of anyone’s imagination.
If one goes by logic that overseas Pakistanis have a right to vote as they help boost foreign exchange reserves then citizens of countries who give IMF, WB and ADB loans should also be allowed to vote during elections in Pakistan. Maybe the entire Chinese population should vote too in our elections due to the strategic CPEC project. What about the Arab fiefdoms who often have given us oil for free? Should not their population also decide who comes to power in Pakistan? We are one of the longest-serving and largest contributors to UN peacekeeping. Will these soldiers also be considered part of the overseas Pakistani voters and if so, who will ensure they are able to cast their vote in the same way as other expats living abroad. How will it be verified that all overseas Pakistani who are not dual nationals will have equal access to vote irrespective of party affiliation.
The paper ballot is the most universally accepted form of means to exercise the right to vote for all literacy levels. Many senior citizen Pakistanis living in the UK, EU and Middle East are illiterate. Internet voting needs a minimum level of literacy which defies the fundamental right of every Pakistani citizen inside or outside the country to cast his or her vote as they don’t have access to basic uniform education facilities. I-voting requires access to either a laptop, a computer or a high-end smartphone. How will ECP ensure that each and every overseas Pakistani has access to such facilities on election day including bye elections. Issues of hacking and forced voting by peer pressure cannot be ruled out. Due to the time zone issues, what will be the cut-off date and time for internet voting. And by the way, internet voting can also be accessed from within Pakistan by using a free VPN making election results even more vulnerable to tampering and rigging than EVMs.
Internet voting needs a minimum level of literacy which defies the fundamental right of every Pakistani citizen inside or outside the country to cast his or her vote as they don’t have access to basic uniform education facilities
If overseas Pakistanis are allowed to influence and decide who rules Pakistan, it infringes the rights of those who decided not to emigrate or did not have the means to get immigration. The notion that many overseas Pakistanis have properties in their names in their constituency does not have any solid grounds. Expat families come to Pakistan on special occasions and have no idea about the problems in the localities of their ancestral homes nor the candidates running for elections. How many expats have traveled to Pakistan since the pandemic started? Their only source of information is the Pakistani media kept in chains by the hybrid regime. The social media being the gutter of the internet has no credibility whatsoever. Party loyalties are defined by which news channel a family watches. Dual nationals and overseas Pakistanis if allowed to vote will be like aristocrats holding a trump card to choose the ruling party of their choice. Above all the exorbitant cost of EVM and internet voting far outweighs benefits if any to take such an irrationally exuberant endeavor.
The PTI plans to overcome its eroding ratings by using EVMs nationally and internet voting internationally. The events of the past few months have made me reflect and realize how true Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was when in a conversation with Dr. Taj Haider he said that expatriates are loyal neither to their country of birth nor to the country of adoption. They are loyal only to their own narrow self-interests. The veteran PPP Senator quoted this in one of his recent articles on ‘Dual Nationality and Allegiances.’ Had influential expat Pakistanis been sincere to political reforms in the electoral process they would have used some platform to voice their concerns. Instead, they have preferred to remain silent spectators and watch the circus from the sidelines. If overseas Pakistanis are really that keen and serious they should travel to Pakistan and only be allowed to vote in their constituencies if they do not hold any other citizenship. Special seats may be reserved in the parliament for Pakistanis with foreign nationalities and they should only be voted for by the dual national Pakistanis living abroad.
The singular electoral reform Pakistan needs is non-interference of state and non-state actors in the electoral process which has always brought embarrassment and humiliation to Pakistan both nationally and internationally. The current technology infrastructure and communication network in Pakistan is robust enough to have both national and provincial election results compiled and made available in at most four to six hours after polling closes. Technology has never been the panacea to the political problems of any country. In the words of Bill Gates, “The first rule of any technology used in business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”