The escalating spy war between Pakistan and the United States has curtailed the work of charities battling to assist survivors from the country’s epic flood last year.
A report appearing in the Guardian said that stringent visa regulations and restrictions on movement by the military are causing long delays, increasing costs and affecting the delivery of aid to areas hit by floods and the conflict with the Taliban.
The newspaper cited the case of a US-based Catholic Relief Services worker who was brought to court for visa irregularities, imprisoned for nine days and deported. British agencies say their staff have fallen under the microscope of Pakistani intelligence services with officials visiting field offices and introducing restrictions on travel. Aid workers in Sukkur started to complain of regular visits from intelligence officers and police. In Jacobabad, agencies were told that visiting certain areas now required a “no objection certificate” – an official letter of permission.
“The authorities have started paying more attention to who is in the country and what they are doing,” said Michael O’Brien of the Red Cross.
Pakistani embassies abroad have also started to restrict access. “It’s making things extremely difficult,” said Paul Healy of Trocaire, an Irish aid agency. “Before, we could get a visa for a technical expert in one week; now it takes 10.”
The greatest impact is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Aid workers now require permission to visit previously open areas, such as Kohistan and Shangla near the Swat Valley.
One European aid manager said he had been unable to send staff to his rural project for more than a month because of the restrictions. “We’re being bundled in with diplomats and other foreign-service nationals. They need to be educated about who we are – and that is not CIA agents,” he said.
The NDMA said it was issuing travel permits on a priority basis. “We are committed to facilitate aid workers in their pursuit of assisting affected communities,” said spokesman Brigadier Sajid Naeem. (With input from the news desk)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2011.