The latest expulsion orders on another over two dozen international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) highlight the security establishment’s continued paranoia that had been triggered by the hitherto mysterious elimination of Osama bin Laden and Dr. Shakil Afridi’s role in the vaccination programme that had reportedly led to it. And Afridi remains one of the thorns that Pakistan must deal with in its relations with the United States.
The extreme action against 27 INGOs happens at a time when key members of the Financial Action Task Force seem to share the view Pakistan needs to extricate itself of the demons that represent a threat to its neighbours and the region.
Sadly, the refusal to these INGOs stems from fears and suspicions that arise only when state institutions fail and they then tend to pass the buck to the weaker links in the entire discourse.
Below are a few points to ponder when judging this debilitating action;
Firstly, state security institutions tend to equate foreign-funding with ‘anti-state’ or espionage agendas. It may be true in some cases – as was evident in the instances of Raymond Davis – CIA’s private security contractor – and Dr. Afridi. But brushing aside all INGOs under the same suspicion sounds quite ironical and self-defeating. Secondly, by turning off the tab on INGOs , the security apparatus – by implication – calls in to question the integrity of its own citizens – many of them highly respected, professionals, or even retired army and civil government officials.
Suspecting such Pakistani professionals to be part of a foreign agenda is as dangerous as ridiculous for the simple reason that this approach essentially turns every national NGO and its staff into a potential spy.
Thirdly, the systematic ejection of INGOs, demonstrates a blatant disregard for livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across the country; demobilization of INGOs amounts to halting sources of funding for national NGOs and by implication, thousands of jobs. Human Rights Watch says INGOs and their local partners impact the lives of about 20m Pakistanis annually.
We know scores of NGOs, who act as the implementing partners of the INGOs, who either have had to wind up or curtail their operations to the bare minimum only because new regulations require them to acquire a No Objection Certificate (NoC) from respective home departments, who say their receive such orders from federal state institutions.
Even INGOs, which work on hygiene, rule of law, or economic reforms agendas, are being refused permission to operate.
Can officials deny the existence of some fundamental prevailing socio-economic or governance issues related to the aforementioned themes – which ironically constitute the core of the ruling party’s agenda too – just by constraining and chucking out these organisations?
Can we wish them away by shunting out the INGOs and NGOs?
Fourth, and this is possibly the most important of all, the security apparatus remains – on the face of it – totally oblivious to the compounding impact such decisions have on the already battered image of the country. How can we expect major donor countries to lobby for us at FATF or at the UN if they are unable to funnel development funding through their INGOs to national NGOs?
Lastly, Pakistan’s problems related to governance, rule of law, health, education – wont cease to exist if we banished INGOs and decapacitated their national partners.
Regulation is of course good. So is transparency and the rationale for rejecting private organisations en masse. The fight for Pakistan at present is of perception. These perceptions are tainted and negative. And ousting or ostracizing INGOs en bloc will do us no good either.