Islamabad: Pakistani artists and students would now need to have a no-objection certificate from the interior ministry, a decision that was "supposedly taken after the embarrassing episode in which singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained by Indian authorities", said a leading Pakistani daily.
Calling it an "ominous development", the editorial in the Dawn on Friday said Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the National Assembly that students wanting to go abroad on scholarships - as well as artistes - would have to obtain an NOC from his ministry before they can leave the country.
"Malik did not give a reason for this bizarre decision, yet it was supposedly taken after the embarrassing episode in which singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was detained by Indian authorities at Delhi`s airport as he attempted to board a flight with a hefty amount of undeclared cash," the editorial said.
Rahat was detained at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport on February 13 for carrying undeclared foreign currency worth more than $124,000. India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) investigated him for more than a week before returning his passport and fining him and his manager Rs 1.5 million each.
Rahat, the nephew of legendary singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, is popular both in India and Pakistan. Several of his hit songs from Indian films are a rage on both sides of the border, for which he has won several awards, including the recent Filmfare Award for "Dil to Bachcha Hai Jee".
The Dawn editorial cited reports as saying that intelligence agencies "would see which country was providing scholarships (to students) and for what purpose".
It asked: "Why are such steps - more suited to police states - being taken during the tenure of a democratic government? If such a move had been made during a military dictatorship, perhaps it would have been unsurprising...Why does the government seem intent on limiting Pakistanis` contacts with the world?"
Highlighting the problem, the daily said that "already numerous foreign scholarships are wasted as the relevant ministries fail to advertise and inform students about them".
"For those students who manage to secure scholarships on their own, this step will only add a bureaucratic hurdle in their way. NOCs can be difficult to obtain even for government employees, so one can imagine the hassle a student will have to put up with in order to get the document.
"As for artists, performers already have to go through a complex procedure to secure foreign visas. Why make things more complicated?"
It wrapped up saying, "In essence, the NOC will serve as a permit to leave the country with the interior ministry having the final say about who can and cannot travel abroad".
There "are very serious questions the rulers need to consider before implementing this bad idea." it added.
"It should be nipped in the bud before it is allowed to impinge on people`s rights and restrict free travel. Such questionable measures have no place in a democratic society."