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Uncertain times for NGOs

THE state`s misplaced war on NGOs appears to be continuing.

Eight months after the interior ministry tried to shut down a foreign NGO, Save the Children, and then mooted onerous new registration requirements for INGOs, the interior minister has had to direct his own ministry to expedite the pace of registration of foreign NGOs seeking to work in Pakistan. As before, neither has the interior minister explained why registration has not been completed so far nor did he state by when it will be completed. It almost appears as if the government and possibly the military establishment behind the scenes wants foreign NGOs to operate in a state of prolonged uncertainty. The suspicion of the development sector is not confined to foreigners alone. A report in this newspaper yesterday suggested that $22m in European funding to help IDPs return from Khyber Pakthunkhwa to Fata may lapse because the National Disaster Management Authority and its provincial affiliate, the PDMA, have not issued no-objection certificates for nearly 30 local NGOs to operate in affected areas.

At the root of the government`s campaign against NGOs is a misplaced understanding of security. The interior ministry and the intelligence apparatus appear to regard NGOs, particularly of the foreign variety, as a threat to the safety and security of Pakistan.

Presumably this is because, in the reckoning of the security and intelligence apparatus, foreign-funded development organisations and particularly foreign citizens are involved in spying on Pakistan, perhaps on the state itself and possibly on the networks of militant groups that operate acrossthe country.Butthe approachis a particularly perverse one. INGOs and NGOs are doing vital work in Pakistan, helping fill in the gaps where the state is derelict in its duties to its people. Security is not simply about protecting the secrets and dark corners of state and society, but also about human security providing basic services to the disadvantaged sections of the public that the state has been unable to protect.

While it is obvious and indisputable that foreign spies should not allowed to undermine national security, it is even more apparent that not all foreigners should be regarded as potential spies or destabilising agents of outside powers. Many of the INGOs and NGOs operating inside Pakistan have been doing so for decades and have established a worthy reputation. What does appear to have changed is the paranoia of the security establishment and its civilian façade.

Counter-insurgencies in Fata and Balochistan and counterterrorism operations in KP appear to have hardened suspicions of foreigners and foreign donor organisations in some parts of the state apparatus.

But can security ever truly be established and the country stabilised if the population the people of Pakistan and particularly its disadvantaged sections are not put at the centre of state policy? The misguided and dangerous war on NGOs must stop.