Islamabad High Court (IHC) Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani on Friday recused himself from further hearing a petition filed by former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general Asad Durrani seeking removal of his name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
The judge did not provide a reason for his decision, saying he had taken it due to "reasons I don't want to share".
Retired Lt Gen 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 IHC in 2019.
When the petition was again taken up for hearing on Friday, Justice Kayani announced his recusal from the case, which he had been hearing as part of the single-member bench.
"[I] know the entire background of the case [and] was in the process of writing the judgement as well," the judge told the court. "This is unfortunate but there are some reasons which I don't want to share [publically]."
Justice Kayani said he was sending the case back to the IHC chief justice so he could take a decision about forming a new bench to hear the matter.
In his petition, Gen Durrani claimed that the government had put his name on the ECL in connection with an inquiry related to a book he co-authored. The inquiry has since been concluded and he had also been punished accordingly; however, his name was still on the ECL.
Last month, the Ministry of Defence had opposed Durrani's request seeking removal of his name from the no-fly list, 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 interests of Pakistan.
In its para-wise comments submitted in response to Durrani's petition in the IHC, the defence ministry said the former ISI chief's name was placed on the ECL 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," read the ministry's response.
It said Durrani's name could not be removed from the 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".
"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".
In the book, the two ex-spymasters have touched upon some thorny issues which have kept Pakistan-India ties strained for decades and at times pushed them to the brink of war.
Before the Court of Inquiry was ordered against Durrani, PML-N supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had drawn a parallel between his statement on the 2008 Mumbai attacks case and the contents of The Spy Chronicles. He had also called for the National Security Council to reconvene on the matter as it had done in his (Sharif’s) case.