Since last year, the government has been steadily tightening the noose around NGOs, many of which it now sees as vehicles for promoting foreign interests. The Interior Ministry has claimed that lax regulation by the previous government allowed around a thousand intelligence operatives to enter the country using the guise of international aid workers. Several international NGOs were directly accused of being involved in activities hostile to the state. Most recently, on March 10, three Islamabad-based NGOs were barred from working following allegations of receiving foreign funding without official permission and not maintaining proper documentation. These include Sahil, Rozan and Tameer-e-Millat Foundation. These organisations and numerous others like them are providing help and resources to underserved segments of society. Abused women and children as well as individuals in far-flung areas of the country often fall through the very large cracks in our governmental welfare and development policies. They receive little attention or care other than from NGOs, which manage to venture past the invisible lines which divide Pakistan into those who matter and those who do not.
There is no denying the fact that there are NGOs which have been used as vehicles for covert operations by foreign powers. Whilst the need for regulation is undeniable, the modus operandi of regulations must be made as transparent as possible. Both local and foreign organisations working in the country should be registered and documented but the absence of documentation should not be used as an excuse to shut them down completely. The government should be working in coordination with NGOs to improve their registration mechanism and to simplify its policies and procedures in this regard. There are no viable alternatives available to the essential services provided by many NGOs and their closure means that some of our most impoverished citizens will have to go without their only source of support. The importance of their work merits that the government should make its compliance procedures less punitive and more transparent when it comes to oversight of NGO funds and operations.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2016.
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