ON Monday, a Senate panel called for revamping ECL policy. Indeed, there appears to be no set criteria governing the Exit Control List that restrains individuals whose name is on it from travelling abroad. There is plenty of elasticity in the rules laid out, allowing the arbitrary and discriminatory use of the law — sometimes as a psychological weapon even when it is clear that the subject, eg a suspect politician or government servant, has no intention of leaving the country. Consequently, the most puzzling cases of Pakistanis being denied their right to travel internationally continue to surface. One such example is of a Pakhtun social activist, fighting for the rights of women and upholding other causes, who was recently detained at the airport when she returned home from a foreign tour and told that her name was on the ECL. No less important has been the debate thrown up by a petition in which an adviser and personal friend of the prime minister pressed for the privilege of being taken off the dreaded list that has been instrumental in aborting many a promising journey. According to some reports, the adviser is contesting his right to be free of the ECL halters, apparently arguing that he was a British citizen and thus not bound by the law of this land.
The ECL rules were set via an amendment to the Constitution in 1981. The law loosely says that the ECL is to deny an escape to those who are alleged to have committed fraud, embezzlement, etc. It is a little odd that whereas the accountability laws in the country have evolved with time, this has not been the case with the ECL whose provisions have often been abused and misused, sometimes — as has been confirmed by officials in the past — to settle personal scores. A few years ago, the PML-N government did momentarily evince some interest in redefining the policy that governs the dread list; but other than that, the subject has, by and large, been left untouched and, unfortunately, the demand for a review does not appear to have been entertained by the powers that be. Now the ECL is becoming a part of the national discussion as the current setup says it is going to intensify its campaign against those who stand accused of corruption. For the sake of change, the government could try and free the ECL law of its wrong tendencies.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2018
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