The Ministry of Defence has opposed a request seeking removal of former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani's name from the Exit Control List (ECL), saying he had been "interacting with hostile elements" including Indian intelligence agency RAW since 2008 and was likely to be involved in future publications against the interest of Pakistan.
Durrani found himself in hot water after co-authoring a book, titled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with Amarjit Singh Dulat, the former head of India's Research and Analysis Wing spy agency, in 2018.
After the book's publication, the Military Intelligence (MI) had written to the interior ministry to put Durrani’s name on the ECL and the same was done in May 2018. The former spymaster challenged the move in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in 2019.
In its para-wise comments submitted in response to Durrani's petition in the IHC on Wednesday, the defence ministry said the former ISI chief's name was placed on the no-fly list for "his involvement in anti-state activities".
It said a perusal of the book The Spy Chronicles revealed that it contained "certain contents concerning [the] national security of Pakistan, being in contravention of the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts, 1923".
"It is further highlighted that there are [a] number of such publications on the way, supported by hostile elements which contain content to create misperception, confusions, question marks against the top leadership circles at country level and to target the common people," reads the ministry's response, a copy of which was reviewed by Dawn.com.
It added that Durrani had been "affiliated/interacting with hostile elements especially Indian RAW since 2008", saying although he had submitted an affidavit "committing to refrain from such activities" to the government, the same had still not been seen "in tangible terms".
According to the ministry's reply, Rule 2(c) of the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Rules, 2010, authorised the federal government to prohibit a person from exiting Pakistan for a foreign destination if the said person is involved in "'acts of terrorism or its conspiracy', 'heinous crimes' and 'threatening national security'".
Moreover, it said Articles 15 and 19 of the Constitution clearly stated that the "freedom of movement and freedom of speech are subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by [the] law in the public interest and integrity, security or defence of Pakistan".
It said Durrani's name could not be removed from ECL "at this stage" because inquiries being conducted against him were being finalised. It said the former ISI chief wanted to travel abroad with the intention of participating in international conferences, forums and talks which will have "serious national security implications as evident from the recently published book 'Honour Among Spies'" — which was also authored by Durrani and published "through Indian publishers/RAW supported elements", according to the defence ministry.
"Moreover, the petitioner also appeared on social media on October 12 and 13, 2020, and expressed his views which of course cannot be well received by any patriotic citizen," the ministry stated.
While noting that Durrani had remained part of the army for 32 years and served on important and sensitive positions, the ministry said "it was inappropriate of his stature to co-author a book that too with [an] ex-Indian RAW chief and Indian journalist on matters concerning the national security of the country".
"Hence, a sufficient cause for placing the petitioner's name on ECL [exists]," it added.
The ministry said after Durrani's book was evaluated from a "security perspective", it was confirmed by the Court of Inquiry that it contained contents "which were against the interests of Pakistan".
It asserted that no fundamental right of the petitioner had been infringed by the placement of his name on the no-fly list, saying: "If a citizen, which includes a person performing function[s] in connection with the affairs of the state, does not obey the constitutional commands, then he is not performing his obligation imposed by the Constitution."
Durrani's petition is expected to be taken up again by the IHC in the second week of February.
In February 2019, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Army had announced that Durrani had been found guilty of violating the military’s code of conduct and a court of inquiry was ordered against him for writing the book. A military court subsequently stripped him of his pension and other post-retirement benefits.
Durrani then challenged that order before the Lahore High Court. In October 2020, Durrani informed the LHC that the government had restored his pension.