The new government, which was in opposition just a month ago, has removed the names of prominent personalities including the prime minister from the Exit Control List (ECL), allowing them to freely move in and out of the country.
Those whose names have been struck from the no-fly list include prominent members of the once again ruling Sharif family – Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, his spouse Nusrat Shehbaz and Maryam Nawaz. Other PML-N leaders including Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Mifah Ismail and Rana Sanaullah’s names have also been removed.
Rana Sanuallah, who has assumed charge of the Interior Minister, was himself on the list. He claimed that names were placed for political revenge and thousands of names will now be removed if no compelling reason is provided within 120 days. More importantly, a parliamentary committee on ECL has been formed which will now approve whether to place a name on the no-fly list. This clearly implies the role of law enforcement agencies will be reduced and the government will have to present evidence before the ECL committee.
Although the no-fly list has been misused on numerous occasions, the removal of the names by PML-N leadership just days after assuming power shows it is being used for personal gains. Many of the top PDM leaders and nearly half of the federal cabinet were facing corruption charges which seem to have dissipated after coming to power and rules have been tweaked to benefit them.
The name of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also on the no-fly list and he was even stopped once at the airport. Maryam Nawaz too has submitted a court plea to return her passport which was confiscated while securing bail, which is likely to be granted and she is also set to fly abroad.
After being granted a reprieve, PM Shehbaz Sharif will undertake his first visit abroad to Saudi Arabia. He is expected to take a large entourage, including Maryam Nawaz and JUI-F Maulana Fazlur Rehman. It seems the new government has no intention of austerity measures despite the sordid state of the economy.
The coming to power of the new government has raised concerns that it will once again use state institutions for its vested gains rather bring structural reforms. It will continue to tweak and bend the rules to save itself rather than work to bring any effective changes.