ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Wednesday admitted on the floor of the National Assembly that the government had shown “haste” in placing the names of 172 people on the Exit Control List (ECL) for their alleged involvement in the fake bank accounts scam and regretted that “it should not have happened”.

Responding to the opposition’s severe criticism of the government for not removing the names of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah from the ECL despite the Supreme Court order, Mr Qureshi said they would not show any “haste” on the matter now.

He claimed that Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had not issued any “directives” and had asked the government to “consider” the matter. He then immediately clarified that “it does not mean that they will ignore his [CJP’s] recommendation”.

Mr Qureshi, who is also vice chairman of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), said the federal cabinet had in its previous meeting reviewed the matter and decided to wait for a written order of the apex court in this regard. “We have not refused, but sought more time (for consideration),” insisted the minister while asking the opposition members to show “patience”.

Opposition in NA protests cabinet’s refusal to remove Bilawal’s name from no-fly list

The admission by Mr Qureshi came in response to a mocking speech by PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar who had questioned the logic behind the cabinet’s decision to wait for the Supreme Court’s written order for the removal of the party chairman’s name from the ECL, whereas the government had shown extraordinary haste and placed the names of 172 persons — who were named in an investigation report on the fake bank accounts case — on the ECL without waiting for the court order.

Mr Qamar said it seemed that the government was intentionally delaying the matter as the chief justice was about to retire in a day or two. Amid slogans of “shame, shame”, he accused the government of “using the ECL as a tool for political victimisation”.

He regretted that the “names of the PTI members are removed from the ECL within 24 hours”. Giving example of former Sindh chief minister Liaquat Jatoi, he said his name was also on the no-fly list, but he was travelling with “impunity”.

Mr Qamar and another PPP MNA Yousuf Talpur called for summoning the attorney general to the assembly to give his viewpoint on the matter.

Mr Qureshi assured the lawmakers that the government “has great respect for the chief justice and his orders will be implemented even after his retirement”.

The cabinet had on Dec 27 last year decided to place the names of 172 suspects in the fake bank accounts and money laundering case on the ECL. However, the Supreme Court, while hearing the case on Dec 31, had expressed surprise over the placing of the names of Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Mr Shah on the ECL and ordered the government to “review the decision”.

The federal cabinet had in its meeting on Jan 10, however, decided to continue the travel ban on the PPP stalwarts, including Asif Ali Zardari, Mr Bhutto-Zardari, Faryal Talpur and Mr Shah. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry later told reporters that the names of the PPP leaders would remain on the ECL until a detailed written order of the apex court was received.

On Wednesday, the issue was raised in the assembly by PPP’s Shazia Marri who angrily asked “how long will this government commit contempt of court?”

PML-N stalwart and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and independent MNA from North Waziristan Mohsin Dawar also backed the PPP and criticised the government for placing the names of the PPP leaders on the ECL.

Mr Abbasi was of the view that the government should have shown generosity and removed Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s name from the ECL without waiting for the court order since the PPP chairman had never been in power.

Enforced disappearances

Speaking on a point of order, Mohsin Dawar raised the issue of enforced disappearances, alleging that a 22-year-old man who had been picked up by security personnel from North Waziristan was found dead. “Does the state have power to provide justice to the family of the murdered man?” he asked.

He regretted that former Malir SSP Rao Anwar — who is facing charges of killing a number of innocent people, including Naqeebullah Mehsud, in fake encounters — had been “set free”. He also deplored that there had been no progress in the “suspicious murder case” of senior police officer Tahir Dawar, who was kidnapped from Islamabad and his body was later recovered in neighbouring Afghanistan in November last year.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari agreed to the points raised by Mr Dawar and said the government was working on the issue of enforced disappearances and would soon bring legislation in this regard, hoping that the opposition would support it. She said there was no justification at all for extrajudicial killings in fake encounters.

Interestingly, she said Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi should brief parliament on the progress in Tahir Dawar’s murder investigation, adding: “We also want to know about it.”

She also said that Rao Anwar should be punished for his crimes. “The government should look into this matter as to how he (Anwar) is enjoying privileges,” she added.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019