Sources say Pakistan has already banned Norwegian Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council. PHOTO: Online

Sources say Pakistan has already banned Norwegian Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council. PHOTO: Online

ISLAMABAD: Amidst a flurry of activity and intense lobbying on the part of foreign governments, the federal government has decided that it will allow all international non government organisations (INGOs) to continue working in Pakistan for the next six months, effectively placing a moratorium on its own crackdown. The government will also require all INGOs operating in Pakistan to renew their registrations within the next three months.

The decision was taken at the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad on Tuesday, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the matter. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who initiated the crackdown, was present at the meeting, as was Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who has held meetings with foreign governments threatening to cut aid to Pakistan if the crackdown continues.

According to an official communiqué, the cabinet decided to suspend the crackdown for the next six months and gave all INGOs operating in Pakistan three months to reapply for registration. The government appears to have been acting out of fear of the international repercussions that a continued crackdown might have on Pakistan’s economic relations with the rest of the world. In addition, after Save the Children was ordered to shut down last week, many other INGOs have been pre-emptively approaching the courts to obtain stay orders against their forced closure.

Under current law, INGOs are treated as a form of foreign aid, and are therefore regulated by the Economic Affairs Division of the Finance Ministry. Chaudhry Nisar, however, appears to be proposing that they be treated as a law enforcement and counterespionage problem. In a meeting with journalists on Monday, he said that he had proposed that the power to register INGOs be transferred to the Interior Ministry.

The official handout stated that the matter would be resolved by an inter-ministerial committee headed by Tariq Fatemi, special adviser to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs.

The meeting appears to have been prompted by lobbying from the United Kingdom, which threatened to cut its development assistance to Pakistan unless the government reverses its decision to ask Save the Children International to shut down operations in the country.

London’s decision was conveyed to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar by officials from the UK’s High Commission is Islamabad, said sources in the Finance Ministry. The UK’s Deputy High Commissioner, Patrick Moody and Head of Department for International Development (DFID) in Pakistan, Richard Montgomery visited Pak Secretariat on Friday night and conveyed their ‘concerns’, the sources added.

The sources added that the UK had been aware of Pakistan’s impending move against Save the Children International before it happened. Two weeks ago, UK Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening had called Dar and cautioned him about London’s reaction to any such decision.

“We are extremely concerned about reports that Save the Children’s Office in Islamabad was sealed on Thursday,” said a spokesperson for the High Commission. “We have raised these concerns at the highest level and are urging the government to allow Save the Children to continue their important development work in Pakistan,” he added.

Save the Children International is a nonprofit organisation focused on children’s welfare around the world. In Pakistan, however, the Interior Ministry has accused the organisation of “anti-state activities” and sealed off its office in Islamabad, ordering its foreign staff to leave the country within 15 days.

While the government does not specify which “anti-state activities” Save the Children was engaged in, the organisation has been linked to Dr Shakil Afridi, the man who ran a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad that helped the US military identify Osama bin Laden prior to the May 2, 2011 raid that killed him. A Save the Children employee told the Associated Press that the only link between the organisation and Dr Afridi is the fact that he attended two workshops on vaccination in 2009 and 2010 run by Save the Children.

The sources said that DFID might suspend the £60 million (Rs9.5 billion) grant that it has promised for the Benazir Income Support Programme, the cash transfer scheme that helps the poorest of Pakistani households. The amount is in addition to the $10 million that DFID has promised to directly give to the BISP in July to help achieve its target of reaching five million beneficiaries.

Pakistan has already banned the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council. An NGO from Bangladesh was also on the list of entities that are under scrutiny, the sources said.

The government is currently working on two fronts to streamline the operations of the international NGOs. It has decided to introduce a law to streamline their operations. It is also working on a draft Foreign Assistance Policy Framework.

The framework is aimed at bringing the foreign economic assistance within the government fold. At present, 65% of foreign economic assistance is not coming through the government channels, much of it through international NGOs funded directly by foreign governments. Islamabad wants at least 80% of this aid to come through government channels.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2015.