Shooting oneself in the foot

Published: June 24, 2015
The writer is a freelance writer based in Islamabad. She blogs at She can be followed on Twitter @AishaFsarwari

The writer is a freelance writer based in Islamabad. She blogs at She can be followed on Twitter @AishaFsarwari

It’s happening again. The slogans of ‘upholding the national interest’ are rising like smoke signals and a war-hungry people are sharpening their daggers and spears for the showdown. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar declared that NGOs working against the national interest will be shown the door. This has gone on for too long, he says, and that the time to act is now if we are to protect the country’s honour. There are a few issues with this pit of darkness. It plays to the ‘foreign interest’ conspiracy theories that everyone buys and sells on the open market of parliament and our drawing rooms. It also indirectly assists militants in speeding up their subversive attacks on the development sector. We can no longer tell friend from foe. This has happened before as well. Only the subject matter changes, the witch hunt and its hyper-paranoia stay the same. The end results can only spell disaster. The first victim here is rationality, the second is pragmatism and the third is the truth.

According to the Pakistan Donor Profile and Mapping report by the UN in 2014, the total capital spend for Pakistan from lead donors since 2011 alone was about $31,209 million. On many occasions, the development sector has been the engine that has driven enormous progress in essential areas, like education. The Punjab government is helped by the UK’s Department for International Development as is the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government’s upcoming Tameer-e-School programme. The USAID will soon be leading the Let Girls Learn initiative. Its energy projects have pumped millions into energy conservation and infrastructure projects. Medecins Sans Frontieres has provided health facilities in war-torn Fata, helping internally displaced persons though trauma, childbirth, infant inoculations against preventable diseases and mine blasts, as well as creating awareness about their plight.

Very few of these organisations, if any, engage in development objectives that are not sanctioned by the government. In fact, as is now policy for developmental organisations such as the USAID, it is mandatory to work with local partners in order to make development aid sustainable and improve local human resource capacity. Their policies and monitoring reports are available on their websites. Their media events and consultative scoping exercises have participation from local government officials to ensure their buy-in.

The jingoism that has recently been displayed is not just misplaced, it is also grossly misinformed. It is marred by a lack of understanding of what is, perhaps, Pakistan’s lifeline as its economy struggles to get back on its feet. The space for workers of the development sector was already tiny and constricted — they already face difficulties in openly collecting data, publishing reports or bringing about behavioural change in society, particularly in the area of women’s health and empowerment, because of growing extremism. Now that space has shrunk even further. It is asphyxiating for those who want a real grassroots turnaround for the people of Pakistan, who have uniformly performed at the bottom of all human development indicators.

Whichever way this scandal crumbles, it is important that everything is determined through evidence and facts, and not through heresy and conspiracy theories. Moreover, this isolated case should not be used to create an environment of utter hostility for other development sector organisations, which are not at fault.

Pakistan is competing for development resources, and in such an environment, funding would go where there is some respect for it. Isolation may work for the leadership of our country which is comfortable spewing hatred against aid organisations because they have their lives all worked out. It doesn’t work for the rest of the under-resourced and extremely neglected Pakistan. It may be part of our leaders’ job description to stay in denial, but it is time we called a spade a spade. It is time we acknowledged the progressive role the development sector can play in Pakistan and steer it towards more effectiveness.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Toticalling
    Jun 24, 2015 - 11:02AM

    A welcome opinion column. NGOs have been working in areas of operation are Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Lahore. Major projects undertaken include Non-formal Education for Girls in the Gujranwala Division and Multi grade Teaching Training carried out in the Rawalpindi Division.If that sort of activities are anti Pakistan, I wonder what is pro Pakistan. I agree the leaders have their kids in best schools and they care little about the majority. Recommend

  • Meena
    Jun 24, 2015 - 4:36PM

    In the last fiscal year (2013-2014) overseas Pakistanis sent home $15.8 billion, which puts aid money in perspective. Notwithstanding the good work done by NGOs and development sector, globally governments use INGOs to gather information and it is no secret, various western States have openly acknowledged it. It is also estimated and acknowledged that a large chunk of aid money goes back to the donor countries in the form of consultancy fee etc. and only around 10-15% donor money reaches the communities in whose name the money is allocated. The only winners from donor money are development agencies not poor communities. INGOs in every Western country are scrutinized and audited and many a times banned from tendering process or operating, Pakistan needs to acknowledge their good work but also do what is acceptable auditing practice in countries where these INGOs are registered. Recommend

  • Meena
    Jun 24, 2015 - 4:39PM

    Donor money creates jobs for Pakistani elite, not get poor out of poverty.Recommend

  • Raghu
    Jun 24, 2015 - 7:55PM

    the author cleary clairfies that Pak is a beggar nation and ban on any aid would bring nation to halt. Pakistanis should take her advice and seek help from foreigners and stop chest thumping jingoism. Atleast look on faces of poor.Recommend

  • waqas
    Jun 25, 2015 - 12:18PM

    NGO’s are foreign agents — Dr. Shakeel Afridi. #Shame
    Moreover, we don’t want aid, let us spend what we have.Recommend

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