THE manner in which events tend to play out in Pakistan leaves us wondering whether those in charge spend any time at all pondering over the consequences of their actions. On Thursday, the interior ministry refused to extend the visas of several foreign representatives of the international NGO Save the Children. While no reason has officially been given, it is believed to be a late-stage consequence of the Osama bin Laden affair. We are still smarting over Dr Shakeel Afridi’s fake hepatitis vaccination campaign as well as our failure to detect the presence in Abbottabad of the world’s most wanted man. On Wednesday, allegations were made on a private television channel that Save the Children was in some way linked to Dr Afridi’s campaign. And while the NGO was in fact amongst those that expressed outrage over the CIA’s alleged use of a vaccination campaign in its manhunt, its employees have been given four weeks to leave the country.
This move has come on the heels of several incidents that demonstrate the rapidly shrinking space within which aid organisations and charities must operate in Pakistan. Threats and attacks from militant and extremist quarters have already meant that a number of such organisations, including most recently the International Committee of the Red Cross, have been forced to reduce their scale of operations. With the move against Save the Children, the government is sending out a strong signal that it, too, is unwilling to provide support to foreigners, even those involved in exemplary and necessary humanitarian work. The line that is strengthened is the one touted by the extremists. The fallout, meanwhile, will be borne — once again — by ordinary men, women and children that the state itself has no capacity or will to support. Time after time, whether the cause is helping people displaced by floods or providing medical aid or catering to children’s nutritional needs, international funding and the work done by charities and aid organisations have meant that the lives of hapless Pakistanis are a little less miserable than would otherwise have been the case. Does this stark reality allow the administration the luxury of knee-jerk reactions?