Double Passport Debate

Double Passport Debate

Monday, 22 December, 2003

In the draft document before the gathering, the president is to be forbidden from holding more than one passport.

However, Hamid Taha, deputy of the cultural branch of powerful Jamiat-i-Islami party, said that the party's position is that many more high officials should be forced to choose.

"Those who have dual citizenship should not be members of the cabinet, the head of the government, ministers and advisers because those who have dual citizenship don't feel the same responsibilities [for Afghanistan]."

The brother of slain Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, Wali Massoud, recently wrote that it was "very dangerous" for those in high positions to have a foreign passport.

"The constitution should restrict the president, ministers, the attorney-general, members of the judiciary, and high ranking officials in the armed forces from holding dual citizenship."

Massoud argued that in recent years thousands of Afghans had got citizenship of Pakistan "which has created security problems in the country".

Anwarul Haq Uloomi, a well-known politician previously associated with communists but now leading Mutahed Milli Hezb, the National United Party, does not see the problem.

"Double citizenship doesn't cause problems to the nation and it doesn't cause corruption, it is alright because citizenship is only a piece of paper."

But particularly among those who fought in the jihad, resentment of those who spent the years of conflict abroad, to then return and take up high positions, runs high.

Politically the issue is also used to question the loyalties of pro-Western members of the interim administration who may be keeping their options open to return abroad.

It is such a touchy subject that many of those who spent years overseas refuse to confirm or deny whether they have a second passport.

Cabinet members of who have lived in Western nations for considerable spells of time include Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani; Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali; Higher Education Minister Dr Mohammad Sharif Fayez; Reconstruction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang and Minister of Culture and Information Sayed Makhdoom Rahin.

The head of the interim administration, President Hamed Karzai, spent most of the years of conflict as a commander based in Pakistan but was also in the United States for a couple of years.

The question of whether he held a foreign passport was directly put to Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Hamid Mubarez who told IWPR that he spent 12 and a half years in France but did not get citizenship.

He emphasised that those who have spent time abroad had received good training which they could now use to serve Afghanistan.

Abdul Salam Azimi, deputy president of the constitution commission, said that in drawing up the draft a lot of discussion has taken place on this issue of dual citizenship.

"One problem is that the international community will think that Afghanistan is creating problems for those Afghans who have become experts and specialists in foreign countries and now want to return to help the country," he said.

He pointed out that other countries allowed high-ranking officials to hold dual citizenship and argued that it was a person's right, "The experience of the last three decades in Afghanistan showed that double citizenship has never been an indicator of the service and character of a person."

Azimi estimated that about five or six of the cabinet held dual citizenship.

Constitution commission member Fatima Gailani, who spent 20 years in London and four more in America before returning to Afghanistan two years ago, told IWPR that she carried a Saudi Arabian passport and an Afghan one. But she doesn't think very many people are opposed to dual citizenship in general, since it isn't that common.

She added the one exception is the president or prime minister if that system of government is opted for. Afghans believe the head of state should not hold two passports, she said, because his loyalty might be divided and in a time of chaos or war he might leave the country.

On the streets of the capital there was a mixed reaction to questions on the issue.

"Experts and specialists should be responsive to the problems of the people and should render service honestly," said Khalid, who is a high school teacher. "It is not important if they have single or double citizenship."

Ghuncha Gul Habib Saafi, a teacher at Kabul University's medical institute, says he could see the practical advantage of attracting back Afghans from abroad while allowing them to keep their options open for the future.

"People were obliged to leave Afghanistan, and now it would be good if they can come and use their expertise for the benefit of the country. However, the loss is that foreigners have a different culture, and those Afghans who have spent a lot of time abroad if they are given key posts they will try to bring in foreign culture."

The issue of exactly who is a citizen of Afghanistan has largely been left vague with Article Four of the draft constitution noting, "The nation of Afghanistan consists of all individuals who are citizens of Afghanistan" and "The word Afghan applies to every citizen of Afghanistan".

Lailuma Saded is participating in IWPR's Loya Jirga reporting project.

Support our journalists