The government’s proposed changes to the Exit Control List (ECL) are most welcome. For years, the ECL has been used above and beyond its purpose. In principle, the list allows for the state to prohibit an individual leaving the country, generally based on the suspicion of a crime being committed. However, in practice, it has often become a tool for the victimisation of political opponents at the hands of the government of the time.
The new allied government’s move to restrict the time period during which a name can be on the ECL is an important change to start with. A name placed on the ECL will be automatically removed after 120 days, unless concrete evidence is presented, due to which the placement will be extended for another 90 days. The government has also added scammers and major fraudsters to the list of those who can be placed on the ECL. Expanding the ambit in this way will help keep potential scammers accessible to law enforcement officials and the courts.
The automatic removal clause looks to be geared towards more political considerations; it will not apply in cases of terrorism, serious crimes, threat to national security, cases forwarded by registrars of the Supreme Court, high courts and banking courts, drug trafficking, Ponzi schemes and cheating public at large. The last three years in particular have indicated how the ECL was used by the PTI government to keep its opponents from leaving the country as a means of added pressure. This sort of practice must end, and it is good to see the government develop a process to keep names on the ECL beyond a specific timeframe.
And while all these changes are positive and minimise the negative political role of the ECL, there must also be a move for political leaders, the Prime Minister and the members of the Cabinet beyond the Interior Minister to completely distance themselves from the workings of the ECL. Names should not be placed on the ECL at whim of the Prime Minister, as had become the practice during Imran Khan’s time in power. State apparatus must be used with care and due process; the abuse of power should not be tolerated. It is hoped that the ECL will no longer be used for political machinations and manipulation.

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