Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan deserves to be commended for addressing a nagging issue pertaining to his domain. He has announced the removal of over 65,000 names of individuals from the Exit Control List (ECL) and Passport Black List (renamed Passport Control List). Of these, 4,987 names have been taken off the ECL and a staggering 59,603 from the passport blacklist.
Those retained, he explained, were involved in anti-state activities or terrorism; linked to proscribed organisations; placed on the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act; or the ones included in the list on the superior judiciary’s orders. As the preceding numbers show in the past too many people have been prevented from proceeding abroad, in a vast majority of case not for something they did, but because of misuse of authority by influential people to settle personal scores. Governments have also been using ECL to give a hard time to political opponents. Needless to say, putting unjustifiable restrictions on the movement of people is repugnant to democratic norms.
As the minister lamented, there was no rule or policy in place for placing people on the no-fly list. As a result, many respectable people had been on the ECL since as far back as the 1980s. The government is now expected to devise a clear policy on both the ECL and passport control list.
According to Chaudhry Nisar, in the future only those names will be placed on the ECL that are recommended by defence institutions, intelligence agencies, or superior judiciary. And of course those connected to proscribed organisations, accused of drug trafficking or involved in the espionage-related activities are to be prevented too from travelling abroad. At his last month’s news conference he had mentioned some other categories as well. The picture is not very clear.
It is imperative therefore that the government come up with clearly spelt out rules and procedures for putting names on the two lists so those affected know exactly why they can’t proceed abroad, and if the grounds for the same are changeable. It would help also to set a timeframe for updating the lists to avoid the unfair treatment meted out to affectees in the past.
Chaudhry Nisar had another good news to give frequent/future travellers. Beginning with Islamabad and Rawalpindi next month, a new scheme is to be introduced for the delivery of passport to applicants’ doorstep. And to save applicants the trouble of visiting passport offices to inquire about delivery status, they would receive necessary information via SMS. Hopefully, the service will soon be extended to the rest of the country.
The ministry must also ensure that the passport offices strictly observe time limits for urgent/normal delivery of passports. Sadly, the track record of this department on the efficiency score is a lot less than satisfactory. Some feasible arrangement ought to be made so the new system works as well in practice as it sounds on paper.