Pakistani lawmakers' citizenship under scrutiny
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Pakistan's Supreme Court is demanding the nation's lawmakers disclose whether they are also citizens of other countries, a status that could cost them their seats. Already, around a dozen legislators on the federal and provincial levels have been pushed out, and that might be just the beginning.
The developments suggest institutional power struggles are deepening in Pakistan ahead of an election season that some say could produce an even weaker government than the one in charge now. The dispute also adds to political instability in a nation the United States considers a crucial, though unreliable, ally in the battle against Islamist extremists as it winds down the war effort in Afghanistan.
"The judiciary is using all possible means to stretch its power,'' said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a Pakistani political analyst. "This is going to be a serious issue, and it is quite possible that different political parties will get together to frame a law through parliament to save their skin.''
Experts agree that the law forbids Pakistanis who hold other nationalities from holding elected office. Nonetheless, amid all of Pakistan's other problems, the laws were largely ignored for years.
During the 1990s and 2000s, when there was a military coup and other political turbulence, many in Pakistan's political elite left for Britain, Australia, the United States and other countries, where some obtained citizenship. The return of civilian rule in 2008 drew many of them back to Pakistan, eager to win elected posts.
The government, led by the Pakistan People's Party of President Asif Ali Zardari, has been in a power struggle with the military ever since it took office nearly five years ago. In recent months, the Supreme Court, too, has emerged as a forceful player, using various legal tools to pursue politicians and, in some cases, the military.
Among the first to be targeted on the nationality issue was Farahnaz Ispahani, a member of parliament and wife of the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani. He resigned last year after becoming a target of the high court in a separate affair.
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