OFFICIALDOM in Pakistan seems to have a penchant for mishandling sensitive issues. Take the treatment meted out to Baloch rights activist ‘Mama’ Abdul Qadeer at the Karachi airport on Wednesday.
Before the activist, accompanied by two colleagues, could board a flight to the US to attend a seminar, the group was stopped by the Federal Investigation Agency and told their names were on the Exit Control List.
Mama Qadeer says officials told him he was involved in “anti-Pakistan” activities, which is why he could not travel abroad. The campaigner was supposed to participate in a seminar in New York on rights violations in Sindh and Balochistan.
The move clearly smacks of political victimisation. What is particularly disturbing is why the individuals had not been informed when their names had been placed on the ECL; this would have allowed them to challenge the move legally.
This incident indicates the state is continuing to misuse the ECL. Instead of employing it as a tool to prevent the flight of violent and dangerous suspects or criminals, it seems the government is using the list as a way to punish critics and opponents by restricting their freedom to travel.
It should be recalled that Mama Qadeer had led a nearly 2,000km march that ended in Islamabad in 2014 to highlight the plight of missing persons in Balochistan.
Accompanied by a small group of women and children, Mama Qadeer’s march was a poignant, painful reminder that in this country, it is taken for granted that the security apparatus detain people extra-judicially.
His own son was found shot dead after going missing. The state should realise that instead of silencing critics or preventing them from raising their voice internationally, it must address the core issues that push people to speak up against injustice in the first place.
This unsavoury incident also highlights the need to reform the process of placing names on the ECL. The procedure must made be more transparent and less prone to abuse.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2015