The Senate meeting on Wednesday asked some very necessary questions about the Exit Control List (ECL)- whose use has given rise to dubious and political placements lately. The answers from the Interior Ministry and Human Right Minister gave way to some surprising revelations- but did not give much comfort or clarification about ECL placements and how they come to be.

Several events in the past few months had led to calls for more transparency about the criteria to be placed in the ECL. After the placement of journalist Cyril Almeida- who had not shown any tendency of escaping abroad- in the ECL, there have been various arbitrary and seemingly politically motivated ECL members. The apparent placement of Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) Hamza Shahbaz, who was forcibly stopped from Dubai, has irked ire from his political party. The placement of MNA’s Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, for no apparent reason since they had not broken any law, has also caused demands by the public for explanation behind the ECL process.

Additional Interior Secretary Dr Tariq Sardar briefed the committee that it was the federal government who issued directives to the ministry about the names to be placed on the ECL. The Human Rights Minister stated that Hamza Shahbaz had not been placed in the ECL, but had been stopped from travelling on behest of a request from National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which thought he would not return due to on-going investigations. The Interior Ministry Official then revealed that apart from the ECL, there were two other lists- a blacklist and the PNIL (Provisional National Identification List) - for which the authority is practiced by intelligence agencies and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Hamza Shahbaz had been on the blacklist and MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir had been placed by the FIA on the PNIL.

Instead of providing clarification on the ECL process, the Interior Ministry has caused more confusion and paranoia by revealing that there are three lists- two of which do not have any legal authority or backing. It is undemocratic that the existence of these lists- for which the criteria to be placed is shrouded in mystery- is being revealed after several politicians have already been placed and penalised. There has been much outrage about the ambiguity of the ECL placements- which are legally mandated- the blacklist and PNIL, which have no legal standing, must be questioned ruthlessly until their placements are transparent and unambiguous.