Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan obviously did not think hard enough before he acted last Thursday when he ordered a shutdown of Save the Children’s operations and sealing of its offices, accusing the charity along with some other international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) of working against Pakistan’s interests.
He changed his mind soon afterwards-presumable, because of a sharp reaction from the US and Britain-issuing a letter that called for holding the action “in abeyance till further orders.” That means this UK-based charity can continue its activities until told otherwise although uncertainty prevails over its future activities.
Notably, it had attracted negative publicity back in 2011 as well for its association with Dr Shakil Afridi who used a fake anti-polio campaign to obtain Osama bin Laden’s DNA. It remains to be seen if the ministry had strong enough reason to bring this INGO’s activities to a sudden halt or the reverse decision – even if for the time being – was an act of haste.
The government is said to be in the process of regulating the activities of all international and local non-governmental organisations. Save the Children has been providing relief to children and families in emergency situations, like natural disasters and conflict. Others are helping with education, healthcare and gender issues.
Considering that successive governments in this country abdicated, to a large extent, their responsibility in these areas the NGOs have been performing a useful role. As many as 127 international organisations reportedly are operating in this country directly or through local organisations.
It surely does not look right that so far they have not been following local rules and regulations. A press report points out that in November 2013 non-governmental organisations receiving foreign contributions were asked to register themselves, only 19 of them complied with the order.
Repeated reminders failed to elicit a positive response, which is when nine internationally-funded aid organisations were told to halt their operations. It is unclear if Save the Children was included in the resisters. If it was, it should not complain about what has happened.
The government itself has been far too negligent about the activities of foreign-funded aid as well as religious/sectarian organisations. It turns out that the requisite regulatory framework has been missing.
Only now has the Prime Minister formed a committee headed by his special assistant on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, to come up with a new legal and operational mechanism to regulate the affairs of all NGOs. It is to include financial audit of the resources and expenditures of over one hundred thousand NGOs currently active in the country.
Genuine aid organisations should have no problem with audit. Hopefully, the number includes seminaries and sectarian organisations receiving funding from foreign sources. Given their oft-repeated resolve to fight such an attempt, it is not going to be an easy task. But the government must find a way to streamline the affairs of all NGOs whether financed by Western countries or the Gulf states.
The text appeared as editorial of Business Recorder today.