Islamabad expels multiple foreign aid groups

A policeman stands guard outside the office of an NGO in Islamabad. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 16 December 2017
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Islamabad expels multiple foreign aid groups

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.


Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

Updated 15 December 2018
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Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

  • Trilateral talks also focused on boosting trust and security between the three countries
  • FM Qureshi extends the olive branch for a new chapter with Kabul

KABUL: Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China held a trilateral meeting in Kabul on Saturday where they discussed measures to boost political trust and join hands for a regional war against militancy which would facilitate the Afghan peace process, even as Taliban insurgents stepped up their attacks.

The meeting was the second one to take place after Beijing had initiated the talks in December last year in order to ease the rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad whose relationship is highly critical for Beijing’s growing economic and political clout in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent years, China has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan and is actively using its influence to bring the two South Asian neighbors closer.

Pakistan has long been accused by Afghanistan and the US of providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban leaders, by funding and arming them since their ouster in late 2001.

Islamabad has denied the allegations.

After the meeting on Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pushed for a new chapter with Afghanistan, adding that the ongoing blame game would not help in achieving peace or building trust between Islamabad and Kabul.

He said that the Daesh and militants from Central Asia and eastern China were against the peace process in Afghanistan, urging for joint efforts to tackle the extremism.

“I am here to engage with Afghanistan. Let us not stick to the past and stop pointing a finger on Pakistan… I came here to build trust and bridges and reach peace and stability. Any improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The three countries signed an agreement pushing for joint efforts in the war against militancy with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying that the coming weeks and months will be highly crucial in evaluating Pakistan’s intentions and its role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan have held a number of meetings in recent years to mend bilateral ties and work towards measures to fight militancy. However, those talks were an exercise in futility as they were followed by the two countries trading accusations and resorting to the blame game. Rabbani said that “the time has come (for Pakistan) to practically show with genuine steps” that it will fulfill its pledges.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described both Afghanistan and Pakistan as its strategic partners, adding that China had great political trust in the two. He asked both the countries to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner and backed the US’ efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, urging the militant group to get involved in the process. 

“We support Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efforts for peace and we call on the Taliban to join the peace process. Cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China is important to bring peace to Afghanistan.” 

The three sides emphasized the importance of regional connectivity and economic development between them. 

Saturday’s meeting took place at a time when Washington is stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban by meeting with regional powers on how to end the US war in Afghanistan which began more than 17 years ago.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former Afghan diplomat, said that a deciding factor for Saturday’s agreement to work depended on building mutual trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan given the fact that similar conversations have taken place between Kabul and Islamabad earlier as well, without bearing any fruit.

However, at the same time, he was optimistic about positive results, reasoning that the situation had changed when compared to the past with the US increasing its efforts for talks with the Taliban.

“Such meetings can be helpful in mending ties between the countries and in helping them come closer to achieving a peace plan,” he told Arab News.