The ECL confusion
The top court has turned down former Malir Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Rao Anwar’s petition to have his named removed from the ECL. Objectively at a first glance, it seems the right decision as he is under trial for the murder case of Naqeebullah Mehsud. However, one doesn’t really know what law actually dictates when it comes to the ECL. There appears to be no set criteria governing the Exit Control List that restrains individuals whose name is on it from travelling abroad. There is plenty of elasticity in the rules laid out, allowing the arbitrary and discriminatory use of the law — sometimes as a psychological weapon even when it is clear that the subject, eg a suspect politician or government servant, has no intention of leaving the country. Recently, the federal government placed 172 people, including the Sindh chief minister, on the Exit Control List on the basis of a JIT report has drawn considerable criticism against the individuals. A JIT report is not in itself proof of guilt even though the government treated it as such. All accused deserve to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise and limiting their freedom of movement when they are not a flight risk is unduly excessive. Hence, one cannot really say anything about the protocols of the ECL.
The ECL rules were set via an amendment to the Constitution in 1981. The law loosely says that the ECL is to deny an escape to those who are alleged to have committed fraud, embezzlement, etc. It is a little odd that whereas the accountability laws in the country have evolved with time, this has not been the case with the ECL whose provisions have often been abused and misused, sometimes — as has been confirmed by officials in the past — to settle personal scores. A few years ago, the PML-N government did momentarily evince some interest in redefining the policy that governs the dread list; but other than that, the subject has, by and large, been left untouched and, unfortunately, the demand for a review does not appear to have been entertained by the powers that be. Now the ECL is becoming a part of the national discussion as the current setup says it is going to intensify its campaign against those who stand accused of corruption. For the sake of change, the government could try and free the ECL law of its wrong tendencies, and draft better and defined laws for it. Meanwhile, Rao needs to wait till his case gets over, and hope he is proven innocent to leave the country.