REPORTS this week that the government has ordered anywhere between 10 to 30 INGOs to cease operations in the country is further evidence of the state’s escalating paranoia. Viewed in tandem with attempts to crack down on the media, social media and local activism, this suspicion of all foreigners and Pakistanis working with international aid threatens to plunge us deeper into darkness, isolated from the world and even each other. True, many foreign states do attempt to influence policy agendas through the disbursement of grant funding, particularly when it comes to national security. But when these policies align with what our government ought to be pursuing anyway, and when the ultimate beneficiaries of such activities are our own neglected people, the government must explain why it is preventing necessary humanitarian, development, research and advocacy work from taking place within the country. It is a legitimate demand that the development sector comply with stringent rules. But transparency and accountability are also required from our elected representatives.
None of the INGOs that have spoken to the media have been given a reason for why their registration applications were not approved by the interior ministry. Confirming its arbitrariness, at least one local NGO was also included in this wholesale culling, even though its application is currently under review with the SECP. The government must provide grounds for its denials and ensure an independent review process for appeals. It must provide an answer to the no less vital question of whether it has the funds, capacity and will to fill the vacuum left behind by INGOs and, concomitantly, local NGOs. International groups contribute billions of rupees, supply technical assistance and employ thousands of Pakistanis to strengthen access to education, healthcare, disaster relief, food security and human rights. Human Rights Watch estimates that INGOs along with local partners reach about 20m Pakistanis annually. They do this because successive democratic governments and military regimes have failed to discharge their duties to the people, despite donor agencies’ attempts to work with the public sector. If the state is committed to the people’s uplift, it must see a way past its myopic distrust of the progressive values of the development sector and work with it to provide sustainable human security. Anything less is a disservice to our underprivileged, marginalised, disaster- and conflict-affected citizens.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017
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