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ISLAMABAD: While the interior ministry took less than three hours to process and approve an application allowing Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan’s close friend Zulfi Bukhari whose name was on a ‘blacklist’ to proceed abroad, the ministry will wait until the next meeting of the cabinet’s sub-committee to get his name placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

An obvious contrast between the haste to remove his name from the blacklist and the lethargy being shown by the interior ministry to get his name placed on the ECL came to light in two reports submitted to the Islamabad High Court on Friday and Saturday.

Justice Aamer Farooq of the IHC, who is hearing the petition of Zulfi Bukhari seeking removal of his name from the blacklist and a petition that sought action against the officials of the interior ministry and the Noor Khan airbase from where he was allowed to take the special flight to Saudi Arabia, will take up both reports on Wednesday.

According to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report, the immigration staff at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad, caught Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari aka Zulfi Bukhari with the help of Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) on June 11 at around 1pm when he was about to board the chartered flight along with PTI chief Imran Khan, his spouse Bushra Manika, Aleem Khan, Aun Chaudhry and another person.

“The IBMS scrutiny showed that one of the passengers namely Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, British passport No 518157071 was placed on blacklist by the Ministry of Interior,” the report stated.

It said Aun Chaudhry expressed his displeasure when the FIA staff caught and briefly detained Zulfi Bukhari. His name had been blacklisted on a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) request to the interior ministry after he had avoided to join investigations into his offshore companies mentioned in the Panama Papers.

Two and a half hours later (around 3.30pm), the FIA staff received a letter (No 12/127/2018-ECL) from the ECL section officer regarding “One-Time Permission for Performance of Umrah” in his [Zulfi Bukhari’s] favour. “Accordingly, he was allowed to travel abroad,” the FIA report added.

In its report, the interior ministry explained as to why Zulfi Bukhari’s name had been blacklisted instead of being placed on the ECL. It stated: “When the case [of Zulfi Bukhari] was received from NAB on May 10, 2018 for placement on ECL, the matter regarding constitution of the sub-committee of the cabinet was under consideration and the sub-committee was not functional. Therefore, as a precautionary measure a direction was passed on to director general (immigration and passports) on May 15 for placement of the name of the petitioner on the blacklist so that he may not abscond.”

About allowing Zulfi Bukhari to proceed to Saudi Arabia, the interior ministry’s report stated that his application was received on June 11 seeking permission to travel abroad for Umrah with an undertaking that he would return on June 13. The request was granted keeping in view the fact that he was proceeding abroad for religious purpose. He was allowed “one-time permission” to travel abroad, according to the report.

The interior ministry in its report further said: “Since the cabinet sub-committee has now been constituted, the request for placing the name of the petitioner on ECL will be put up before the sub-committee at its next meeting.”

Justice Aamer Farooq of the IHC has expressed displeasure over the haste in the case of Zulfi Bukhari and pointed out that the interior ministry in other cases showed lethargy and did not even implement the court’s direction for removal of someone’s name from the ECL. He, however, remarked that he could only wish such a swift action in the cases of common citizens.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2018