Flushing out the anti-Pakistan elements
“Armed with their billions, NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation.”
Suzanna Arundhati Roy (Indian writer and activist)
On July 02, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while hearing the NGOs case, observed that foreign funding was like oxygen to the NGOs operating in the country and if the government choked its supply, terrorism will come to an end for good. He also asked the government to inform the court as to what measures it had taken so far for halting the flow of foreign funding to NGOs.
Foreign-funded NGOs had been going on with their activities in Pakistan without any parliamentary or government check. Although in the second half of 2013, the government made it mandatory for all foreign-funded NGOs, local or foreign, to get registered with the Economic Affairs Division and declare their bank accounts as well as names of their contributors, yet the process remained in the doldrums for a long time. However, the situation took a dramatic turn when on June 11, the authorities sealed the head office of international relief organization, Save the Children (StC), in Islamabad and ordered the organization to shut down all its operations in the country, saying it was involved in ‘anti-Pakistan’ activities. On June 16, the government announced to give the NGOs three months to get registered once again under the new regime of regulations.
Pakistan has taken stiff measures against NGOs because they are involved in activities that are against the sovereignty of Pakistan. These measures include banning NGOs if found involved in political, sectarian or anti-state activities. Over 380 NGOs are on the Orange List of scrutiny committee including 7 International NGOs.
When “Save the Children” was shut down, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warned that foreign organizations operating in Pakistan would not be allowed to engage in ‘anti-state’ activities, and that any attempt to impose an ‘external’ agenda would be dealt with swiftly and decisively. He also said that some international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Pakistan are being backed by the United States, Israel and India.
This stirring assertion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, as expected, was criticized by the European Union; nevertheless, message being delivered by the government is clear: Pakistan will not tolerate any attempts to undermine its sovereignty or question the decisions it takes as an independent nation.
There are many reputable NGOs in Pakistan which have been established or funded by official and semi-official agencies of different countries or by private donors and they are doing useful work in the promotion of laudable political, economic, social and humanitarian goals. But, it is also regrettably, true that many of them are involved in anti-state activities. Such NGOs with innocuous-sounding labels have been set up mainly by western countries to serve their foreign policy interests or promote their ethical and cultural values. Some NGOs also harbour foreign agents working against the interests of Pakistan with or without the knowledge or complicity of the parent organisation itself. NGOs provide an excellent cover for clandestine activity by hostile foreign agencies such as intelligence-gathering and subversion in the country in which they operate. Perhaps the most notorious recent example is that of the CIA setting up a fake vaccination programme of the “Save the Children Fund” to plant Dr Shakil Afridi to hunt Osama bin Laden and to eliminate him. Afridi was certainly not the only CIA agent in Pakistan using an NGO cover for clandestine activities.
It is also to be noted that the NGOs are often viewed with suspicion by many countries. Most governments, therefore, seek to regulate and monitor their activities in order to curb those activities which they consider inimical to their national interests. The US itself led the way by passing the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara) in 1938. It requires all those individuals or legal persons which receive money from a foreign entity to register themselves as ‘foreign agents’. Fara was passed by the US Congress in response to the activities of German propaganda agents in the US before the Second World War. This law was used in 2012 to convict Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the Washington-based Kashmiri American Council (KAC), to two years’ imprisonment.
Many other countries have also adopted legislation similar to Fara. Somewhat incongruously, the US is now their main critic.
But when it comes to Pakistan, the case is surprising because although the country hosts a vast number of NGOs — including those having a dubious reputation — yet no law to regulate their activities is in place. Government has given the NGOs a 3-month period to get them registered, but under what law? The Economic Affairs Division, which has been entrusted with the job of regulating and monitoring the activities of the international NGOs, has certainly not risen up to the challenge. In the absence of clear-cut rules, its oversight of NGOs has been patchy, haphazard, opaque and arbitrary. Besides, there is insufficient coordination with other concerned ministries such as interior and foreign affairs.
Lethargy and laxity on the part of the federal government comes to light with the remarks of Justice Jawwad Khawaja who also observed that tall claims had been made but the Ministry of Interior was so far not been able to provide the basic information in this regard [registration of NGOs].
It is opportune to conclude that it is undeniable that many foreign and local NGOs, barring a few, have been engaged in serving their own mandated — or more rightly hidden — nefarious agendas more than the interests of Pakistan. What is, therefore, important for the Government of Pakistan is to enact such laws which curb these NGOs’ anti-Pakistan activities and to ensure that the rules and regulations that are in place to regulate the NGOs are implemented in letter and spirit. It should, under no circumstances, succumb to any pressure that is bound to come from vested groups in this regard.