THE interior ministry’s attempt to streamline the process by which Pakistani citizens are denied the right to travel abroad or even to be issued passports is a welcome and much-needed move.
While the Exit Control List is a well-known and much-abused mechanism, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan revealed a far greater problem: the existence of a so-called black list maintained by the immigration and passports department, with upwards of 60,000 names.
The black list was originally conceived of to deny the issuance or re-issuance of a Pakistani passport to a wide variety of individuals, including Pakistanis who had attempted to acquire multiple passports; foreigners who had acquired fake CNICs to obtain a passport; citizens who had been deported by a third country and who were required to be denied travel abroad again; children involved in custody disputes; and a list of individuals that various government agencies had deemed should be blocked from holding a passport. It is this last category — those placed on the immigration and passports department black list at the behest of government agencies — that was particularly prone to abuse.
Government officials acknowledge that individuals who should rightly be on the ECL or were wrongly implicated in crimes committed in Pakistan were arbitrarily and endlessly maintained on the list.
Now, in a bid to streamline and rein in the process, the government has abolished the black list and introduced new, specific and transparent rules for an individual’s inclusion on what will be known as the Passport Control List.
That is the right and just thing to do. It is simply unacceptable that Pakistanis be denied the right to state documentation that allows them to travel abroad because of a broken or abused system.
Going forwards, administrative or law-enforcement agencies will no longer have the ability to arbitrarily manipulate the ECL and the Passport Control List.
What the interior minister’s reforms also demonstrate is that when various government departments work together purposefully and with the goal of improving the citizen’s interaction with the state, meaningful results can be achieved.
An Exit Control List is surely required, but its use should be limited and lawful.
Meanwhile, the black list was an unnecessary, expansive and regularly abused device. The Passport Control List, to be applicable to three categories of individuals transparently defined, is a measurable improvement.
Thousands of individuals have been saved from bureaucratic purgatory thanks to the work of the interior ministry and its constituent departments.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2015