A report by the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which recommended that a little-known blacklist of persons forbidden from travelling abroad be abolished, was approved by the Senate following a debate in the Monday session.
Describing the blacklist as being without constitutional and legal backing, the committee had on January 25 recommended abolishing it along with all such lists that impinge upon the fundamental rights of citizens.
Demanding an immediate halt to the placement of any new names on the list, the committee had recommended that the Ministry of Interior submit a compliance report within 10 days.
A point of order had been raised in the house in December last year regarding the procedure for putting names in the said blacklist and its legal standing. The point of order had been referred by the Senate chairman to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice for consideration.
The committee considered the matter in several meetings over the past month. It had also invited the ministries of interior and human rights for their input on the subject.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman today said that as per a minister who did wish to be named, there was another list aside from the blacklist through which people were stopped from travelling.
She said such curbs on freedom of travel went against fundamental human rights and people were illegally being stopped from travelling.
Rehman noted that aside from the official Exit Control List (ECL), there were two other lists being maintained under which people were being barred from foreign travel.
"We did not see this [practice] even during the years of dictatorship," Rehman remarked.
She alleged that these lists were being drawn up "late at night" and even politicians were being stopped at airports on their basis.
"How are there three separate lists to stop people from traveling?" the senator asked.
The report had quoted the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director general as saying that the agency only implemented the blacklist through an automated system, which did not allow it access to information regarding why a person was added to the list.
It mentioned Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari as stating that such lists were not acceptable in a democracy as they impinged upon fundamental rights.
It added that the authorities concerned also recognised that the blacklist and the likes of it had no legal value and that the ECL was the only valid list in this regard.
Former Senate chairman and PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani echoed Rehman's remarks and said the interior ministry, the FIA as well as passport and immigration officials were unaware of how the blacklist was prepared.
Rabbani said any action taken by any department or official on the basis of the said blacklist was against the law, adding that it would make sense to take action against any officers found complicit in implementing it under the Constitution.
In a previous session, the house had been informed that during the course of briefings on the issue, Immigration and Passports Director General Ishrat Ali had said that the blacklist was being maintained in pursuance of the Passport Manual, 2006.
"The provision has remained part of the manual since 1957. However, some of its parts and categories were incorporated in the Passport Act, 1974, and the remaining continued to be part of the passport manuals, as and when issued," he had claimed.
However, the report said that the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports does not initiate this list but the names are added on the recommendations of judicial and quasi-judicial forums.
In a swipe at the 'establishment', Rabbani today said the names of those who should be included in the list were not added by the passport office as, in actuality, it was "they" who ran the show.
Rabbani, in reference to former dictator Pervez Musharraf, said he had asked passport officials where the blacklist was when an "Article 6 suspect was permitted to run away from Pakistan".
"When [Pervez] Musharraf fled abroad, was the blacklist a white list?" Rabbani asked.
Joining the discussion, PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain noted that no single party or government could be held responsible for the blacklist, and advised that a committee should be formed to look into the matter.
"This is an issue concernign the Pakistani state and people: the government should raise this issue in the cabinet," he said.
Following the opposition members' remarks, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said the reservations had been recorded and promised that the interior ministry will brief the house on the matter.
The minister, however, said that any persons who wish to travel outside Pakistan would only be allowed to do so as per the law.
"How were Ramzi Yousef and Aafia Siddiqui moved abroad?" he asked, referring to two instances when Pakistani citizens were removed from the country without due process. He wondered if it was acceptable that 'they' (without specifying who, but implying foreign powers) may extradite Pakistani citizens from the country at whim and asked the lawmakers present if they would challenge such forces when that happened.
Khan also rhetorically asked the Senate that if a terrorist attempted to flee abroad, would the security agencies be required to wait for cabinet approval before making an attempt to stop them.