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Islamabad expels multiple foreign aid groups

A policeman stands guard outside the office of an NGO in Islamabad. (File photo/AFP)
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has ordered 23 international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), including ActionAid, Plan International and Marie Stopes, to leave the country by the end of January, risking bilateral trade and relations with the host countries of the foreign-aid groups.
The Ministry of Interior issued letters to the INGOs directing them to close their operations and leave Pakistan within 60 days as their applications for registration had been rejected.
“Action against these INGOs has been taken based on intelligence reports,” a senior Interior Ministry official told Arab News.
He revealed that majority of the foreign aid groups that have been directed to close their operations in Pakistan were working in restive parts of the country, including the provinces of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
“Our intelligence agencies have been closely watching the operations of these INGOs and suspected some of them of being involved in inciting unrest in the local population in restive areas of the country in the name of human rights,” the official said.
In 2015, Pakistan directed all foreign aid groups working in the country to re-register with the Interior Ministry by submitting certain documents including annual financial audits and their funding sources.
The government has so far permitted 73 INGOs to work in Pakistan and is scrutinizing the documents of another 20 to ascertain whether they will be allowed to work in the country.
A group of foreign missions in Pakistan submitted a letter to the ministry on June 29 this year expressing their concern over the INGO registration process and the rejection of applications from some of the aid groups.
“We are concerned that the registration process is having a negative impact on the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance,” the letter, jointly written by heads of foreign missions including those of Australia, Canada, the EU, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the UK, stated.
The majority of the INGOs that have been permitted to work in Pakistan come from the US, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, France and Norway.
Mohammad Tahseen, convener of the Pakistan Civil Society Forum, told Arab News that it is illegal and unethical to expel INGOs providing services related to education, health, poverty reduction, climate change and agriculture to marginalized segments of society in Pakistan.
“The expulsion of foreign-aid groups will send a negative image of Pakistan to the international community,” he said. “It will also have a negative impact on Pakistan’s bilateral trade and relations with the host countries of the INGOs.”
Tahseen said that if the government had evidence of any wrongdoing by these INGOs, it should have been presented at a proper legal forum before the expulsion orders were issued.
He said the expulsion of INGOs from Pakistan would only add to the rampant unemployment and sufferings of the poor, especially in far-flung areas of the country where the government has failed to provide basic facilities including education and health care.
Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, which represents 62 international INGOs, said in a report that it spent $285 million on various humanitarian and development works, directly benefiting some 29 million people across Pakistan, in 2016. It also claims to have employed over 5,000 local staff.
Pakistan stepped up its monitoring of foreign-aid groups after the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 by a US Navy Seals team in Abbottabad, a garrison city in the KP province.
The country’s intelligence agencies accused Save the Children, an INGO, of being complicit in helping the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to find the Al-Qaeda kingpin in Pakistan — a charge the charity denies. In 2015, Pakistan also expelled the Norwegian Refugee Council and forced a temporary shutdown of Save the Children in the country, while Medecins Sans Frontieres was expelled from the FATA in September 2017.