RECENTLY, two members of the National Assembly were offloaded from a UAE-bound flight and barred from leaving the country. Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir from North Waziristan are just the latest names to be placed on the long Exit Control List. No clear explanation was given, though later it was said that an FIR had been registered against the two lawmakers earlier for making ‘anti-state’ speeches in a public meeting in Swabi, which they deny. On Sunday, Mr Dawar told the media that he and Mr Wazir had been on their way to attend a festival in the UAE when they were stopped by the authorities. So what was the point of publicly humiliating two sitting MNAs? The speaker of the National Assembly needs to take note of the incident; clearer explanations are needed. This incident follows the unlawful detention of Pakhtun activist Gulalai Ismail, who was also placed on the ECL. In the absence of transparency, acts like these can appear arbitrary especially when such travel bans are ignored in the case of some other individuals.
Since its introduction in 1981 by the Zia dictatorship, via an amendment to the Constitution, the ECL has been increasingly viewed as a political tool to victimise, inconvenience and cause psychological distress to those who don’t toe the line, or to settle personal scores. The primary purpose of the ECL was to restrict the movement of those alleged to have committed financial fraud, but this objective seems to have lost all meaning considering the blatant misuse and overuse of the ECL. In 2015, the then interior minister had announced there were more than 8,000 names on the list, out of which some 7,500 had been there for decades. Some of the individuals listed are not even alive anymore. The Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance states that the government has no obligation to give the individual an opportunity to show cause. This contradicts the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. A revision of the ECL is the need of the hour.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018