Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently told the National Assembly that “artists, students and government employees will have to obtain no-objection certificates (NOC) from the government before leaving the country.” Why has it become necessary for the government to restrict the movement of a certain class of Pakistani citizens? He explained that “the government has decided to bring necessary changes in the passport form to check activities of NGOs and artists going outside the country.” He thinks that students, too, endanger the country by going abroad: “Pakistan is facing grave challenges to its integrity and it was time to forge unity to tackle the situation.”
The Interior ministry is famous for overreacting to what it deems dangerous to Pakistan.
The next ominous move made by Mr Malik came when he held an inter-ministerial meeting to get everyone on board on the issue of regulating “foreign visits of public servants, artists and journalists in the interest of Pakistan’s security and to safeguard the country’s prestige”. As if all this was not enough, from March 15, even visitors would be required to obtain an NOC from the ministry of interior for their visits to India. This move is even more endangering to the rights of the Pakistani citizen and brings to mind regimes during the middle of the last century, which felt endangered by subjects moving out of the ideological noose of the totalitarian state. Today, we know that the state that banned its citizens from travelling abroad did not last by reason of its citizens, refusing to accept its social contract.
Now, no one will be able to go to India unless allowed. And a large category of Pakistanis will not be able to travel abroad at all, unless some bureaucrats in the interior ministry are satisfied that they will not endanger the state. The ministry is famous for overreacting to what it deems dangerous to Pakistan. It represents the paranoia that the state feels under the military-driven perception of state security. In the case of Pakistan, it is not so much the Pakistani going abroad who endangers the state, as the Pakistani who lives inside it and has joined up with al Qaeda and the Taliban whose agents the interior ministry cannot stop from coming in.
It is unclear what the ministry is reacting to. Is it supinely accepting the diktat from certain quarters bent upon isolating Pakistan to choke off its economy and curtail the minds of its citizens? No matter what it says about the efficiency with which it will process the permissions to be granted to each citizen trying to go abroad, no one will believe that it has the high calibre section officers, who will clear the mountains of applications that will land on their tables. No matter what contortions Mr Malik goes through, he cannot ensure that sifarish will not clear the powerful, while the deserving, less powerful remain thwarted. He will not be able to guarantee that the jihadi outfits located inside Pakistan will not be allowed to travel abroad to indulge in activities of sabotage and terrorism. It is actually the Pakistani terrorist organisations – whom he has failed to ban despite UN resolutions – who require strict oversight on the part of Mr Malik.
If it is the outside world that is forcing Pakistan to scrutinise its travellers, it is almost certainly pointing to outfits that Mr Malik will not dare touch. What he is proposing is a fascist closing of the exit door on a population whose many members may soon reject the state itself. In any case, Pakistanis will not accept such police-state tactics. As far as the economy is concerned, investors will interpret Mr Malik as fearing that Pakistanis are trying to run away from Pakistan. What we hear every day is the textile sector fleeing abroad to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Jordan; and there is nothing Mr Malik can do about capital flight, a far more important asset than poor citizens whose security he cannot guarantee. As for the security of states visited by Pakistanis, it is their responsibility to ensure proper entry, which is what they are doing to stop the export of terror that Mr Malik failed to tackle.