Foreign NGOs in Pakistan lose licences under stricter rules

By Ashfaq Yusufzai


A view of the international aid group ActionAid sponsored community school. [ActionAid]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has ordered a number of international aid groups to wrap up their operations in 60 days, an international NGO (NGO) said Wednesday (December 13).

Authorities, citing concerns about such organisations' hiring practices and other matters, are ordering foreign-funded aid organisations to re-register under stricter rules that came into force two years ago.

Several have lost their licences as a result.

"We believe that we are one of more than 20 organisations whose registrations have been rejected," Jonathan Birchall, spokesman for the Open Society Foundations, told AFP.

International charity ActionAid, which supports a range of projects, has also said it has to leave Pakistan.

In recent years, Pakistan has hardened its policies towards international aid groups, accusing them of being covers for spying operations, and has repeatedly warned them to restrict their activities.

Failing to meet criteria

In recent weeks, the government has barred 21 NGOs for failing to meet criteria set by the government for working in Pakistan, an Interior Ministry official who requested anonymity told Pakistan Forward.

Those criteria, set in 2015, stem from the government's concern with terrorism, which was especially widespread in Pakistan in 2013 and 2014, he added.

"In the past, several privately run organisations have been involved in unlawful activities," he said.

For example, the government banned Doctors without Borders (MSF) from two districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) because of reports that MSF had been hiring local employees without giving authorities the chance to vet them first, he said.

That said, Pakistan appreciates the international NGOs and local NGOs that have helped survivors of natural disasters many times, he said.

NGOs that have lost their licences have 60 days to wind down their activities, he said, adding, "They can lodge appeals with the [Interior] ministry."

ActionAid complains

The news comes as a blow to various international NGOs that had expected to keep working in Pakistan.

The Interior Ministry never gave a reason for refusing to let ActionAid register, ActionAid Pakistan Country Programme Country Director Iftikhar a Nizami said in a statement Thursday (December 14).

"We have been given 60 days to close down," he said, adding, "We provided all the information and documents required and were confident that we had complied with all necessary rules and regulations."

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