Pakistan shutters int'l NGOs, cutting off basic services for 11 m. people

Analysts say the Islamabad is worried about entities involved in sensitive matters related to security and religion.

A masked protester sits next to a flag of Pakistan during an anti-Indian protest  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A masked protester sits next to a flag of Pakistan during an anti-Indian protest
(photo credit: REUTERS)
[Islamabad]—Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior has ordered 18 humanitarian aid groups to halt their operations and leave the country within 60 days. The majority of these international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are US-based, while the rest are from the United Kingdom and other EU countries.
INGOs had been providing health care, education, food, sanitation, and other basic services to vulnerable people, with a focus on education for girls, women’s rights, helping street children and people with disabilities. Islamabad’s move would affect more than 11 million people living below the poverty line.
Commenting on the decision, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said these organizations employed thousands of Pakistanis nationwide and shared the government’s vision for a vibrant, healthy, democratic and prosperous country.
“Many needy people will suffer from this rash action, and that’s the real tragedy of this development,” Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, conveyed to The Media Line.
Though the Pakistani government’s stated reason is that INGOs were falling behind on filing documents for regulatory transparency, the real motivation was mistrust and suspicion regarding overseas entities, Kugelman explained.
Adriano Campolina, the secretary general of an expelled organization told The Media Line that “the decision to shut down these bodies is a worrying escalation of recent attacks on civil society, academics and journalists. If the trend continues, the country’s hard-won democracy will itself be the ultimate victim.”
According to a list of banned organizations received by The Media Line, nine INGOs are linked to the US, three to the UK and two to the Netherlands. Others have connections to Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and Ireland.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry confirmed it had rejected the appeals of 18 banned entities, but declined to provide further details.
Speaking anonymously due to the sensitivity of the matter, a senior Interior Ministry official told The Media Line that the majority of the barred organizations were “working against Pakistan’s national interests, and were involved in matters related to security and religion.”
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