The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday ordered the removal of former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani's name from the Exit Control List (ECL), saying there was "no basis" for it.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah was hearing a petition filed by Durrani seeking removal of his name from the ECL. Additional Attorney General Tariq Khokhar, who was not present at the start of the hearing, was asked by the judge to appear in the court.
Meanwhile, the judge asked Deputy Attorney General Syed Tayyab Shah whether the former chief's name had been put on the ECL because an inquiry had been underway against him.
Chief Justice Minallah went on to observe that the court had "examined all records", according to which there was no inquiry underway against Durrani when his name was placed on the ECL in 2018.
"Like all citizens, this retired three-star general also has rights," he added.
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.
During today's hearing, the IHC chief justice asked the deputy attorney general to "give the court grounds otherwise there is no basis for keeping [Durrani's name] on the ECL".
When Additional Attorney General Khokhar appeared in front of the court, Chief Justice Minallah again asked whether Durrani's name was put on the ECL because of an inquiry against him.
"According to the record, there was no inquiry underway at the time," he pointed out.
"The petitioner is a retired three-star general and has also remained the ISI director. But now he is a common citizen and it is his right to move about with freedom."
Justice Minallah questioned whether the federal government had "free rein to put anyone's [name] on the ECL".
AAG Khokhar asked the court to issue a notice to the Ministry of Defence for an answer, to which the IHC chief justice replied that there was "no need to call anyone".
"According to the record, there is no fresh inquiry against Asad Durrani. There is no reason for keeping his name on the ECL," Justice Minallah said.
The court then ordered that the former ISI chief's name be removed from the list.
Last month, IHC Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had recused himself from hearing the petition.
The judge did not provide a reason for his decision, saying he had taken it due to "reasons I don't want to share".
In his petition, Gen Durrani had 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".