Addressing a news conference on a wide-range of issues on Sunday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan devoted considerable attention to the contentious issue of Exit Control List (ECL), saying it is under review to stop misuse, and that, 5,000 names out of 8,000 are to be deleted in a couple of months.
This is being done after issuing notices to the departments on whose recommendations the names had been put on the list, asking them to give reasons for the action. Some of the names, he disclosed, have stayed there for decades, in one case since 1985, without anyone bothering to assign a reason for it.
This only goes on to show why ECL is such a controversial subject. It has been one of the tools that governments in the past have been employing to give hard time to their political opponents. Influential individuals have also been using it to vent out family grudges, especially in situations where an estranged or ex-spouse needed to travel abroad.
Under the new policy, the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Investigation Agency and other departments will have to justify their recommendations for putting a person’s name on the ECL before a five-member interior ministry committee.
Other than that, only on the recommendations of the superior judiciary and security agencies, said the minister, a name will be placed on the ECL. The powers of the Directorate of Passports to blacklist people are also being withdrawn.
From now on, both the ECL and the passports blacklist, to be called Passport Control List, would be managed by the Interior Ministry. Nisar mentioned a couple of categories of people that are to be included in the passport list, such as those deported by other countries and the ones using more than one passport.
Similarly, regarding the ECL he said people serving in sensitive positions whose travel abroad could hurt the nation’s interests would be placed on this list.
The above mentioned measures are not a completely satisfactory solution. Much will continue to depend on the interior ministry’s discretion. There would be room still for subjecting anyone to maltreatment out of spite or political considerations.
What is needed, therefore, are clearly spelt out rules and procedure for placing names on the ECL or the Passport Control List. Also, in view of past experience, these lists must be updated within a specified time period – say, six months – so those affected know exactly where they stand; and if clean, they have an opportunity to clear their names.
As the minister himself acknowledged restricting movement of people without any justification is against democratic norms.