PESHAWAR -- Pakistani authorities have asked the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) aid group to close its medical facilities in Kurram Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the organisation said Wednesday (September 13).
Foreign nationals and organisations working in Pakistan are required to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government to operate in certain areas.
MSF said the government has refused to renew its NOC, preventing it from continuing its healthcare projects in the district, located in Pakistan's restive northwest along the Afghan border.
"MSF is saddened by the decision from the authorities responsible for NGOs working in Kurram Agency," Catherine Moody, the group's country representative, said in a statement.
The tribal districts are among the poorest areas in Pakistan and are governed under a draconian legal system introduced by British colonial rulers more than a century ago.
A senior government official in Kurram confirmed that MSF has been asked to stop working in the district after its permit expired.
"They have been asked to stop working until their [permit] is renewed," the official told AFP Thursday (September 14), adding that authorities have been paying closer attention to foreign NGOs across the country, especially in tribal areas.
A FATA Health Directorate official told Pakistan Forward Thursday (September 14) that under the law, non-profit organisations are obligated to hire staff in coordination with local authorities in an effort to solidify law and order in the area, but MSF did not comply in this regard, and accordingly the group’s permit was not renewed.
MSF said officials have not explained why their permit was refused in an area where its has been providing health care for 14 years.
Although violence in Pakistan has declined in recent years following a series of military offensives against insurgents, Kurram has remained a top target for militant groups.
Parachinar, the capital of the mainly Shia tribal district, became a scene of carnage in June when twin blasts ripped through a crowded market days ahead of Eid ul Fitr celebrations.
The attack, claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), killed at least 72 people and injured up to 200, according to local news reports.
Prior to that, a Taliban car bomb tore through another market in the city on March 31, killing at least 22 people, and on January 21 terrorists targeted a vegetable market, taking at least 24 lives.
MSF's long history in Pakistan
MSF has a long history in Pakistan, working with communities affected by natural disasters, conflicts and insufficient healthcare facilities for over 30 years.
The group has been working in Kurram since 2004, where it was responsible for an outpatient department for children under five years and an inpatient department for severely ill children up to 12 years of age.
"We will, as much as possible continue to provide obstetric and newborn services to the women of FATA through the MSF women's hospital located in Peshawar," the statement said.
Dr. Qaisar Rashid, president of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), lamented the decision to halt MSF operations in Kurram Agency.
MSF is an internationally respected entity that has worked throughout the world in conflict zones to provide health care to vulnerable and deprived people, he said.
"Closure of its activities would badly hit the population in tribal areas, who have already suffered a great deal at the hands of militants," Rashid told Pakistan Forward. "The MSF should be allowed to extend healthcare services to the needy."
Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the government to protect MSF's activities in the country, he said.
"The MSF has been actively working in militancy-prone areas and giving maternal and child health services to people in many parts of Pakistan," he said. "PMA strongly condemns threats against the MSF and asks the relevant authorities to take to task those threatening or hampering its work."
[Ashfaq Yusufzai in Peshawar contributed to this report.]