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Pakistan Briefly Bans Save the Children: The politics of NGOs

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Pakistan has suspended moves to close the national branch of the charity Save the Children. The move by the interior ministry comes three days after the charity's main office in the capital Islamabad was shut down by police on June 12, 2015.

The United States swiftly warned Pakistan it was only hurting itself after Save the Children was expelled for "working against the country," with Islamabad threatening to throw out more foreign aid groups. "This has had a significant negative impact on international partner efforts to support government of Pakistan priorities," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Tellingly, speaking after the charity's offices were shut, Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan said NGOs were operating beyond their remit with backing from US, Israel and India. He said local NGOs that used foreign funding to implement a foreign agenda in Pakistan "should be scared".

Nisar said that there are several NGOs operating in Pakistan without any specific agenda. He said that most of them were taking part in "anti-Pakistan" activities. Without naming any organizations, he said some NGOs had been operating without proper regulation and had worked in volatile Baluchistan province when they had permission only to work in Islamabad.

The Interior Minister said that the ministry was receiving several intelligence reports about illegal NGOs, but no action was being taken against them. He said parliament was debating whether to expose the foreign NGOs bent on undermining Pakistan. "Many NGOs are working against Pakistan and we are deliberating on exposing them in the parliament," Nisar told reporters.

Pakistan's government announced on June 16 that international aid groups can operate for another six months provided they register with officials in three months' time.

It may be pointed out that Save the Children is linked to a fake vaccination program used by the CIA to track down Osama Bin Laden.

Dr. Shakeel Afridi

Three weeks after the US commando raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistani Dr. Shakeel Afridi was arrested for carrying out a fake immunization program for the CIA that sought to take cheek swab samples of bin Laden's children to be matched with available DNA records of Bin Ladin who was reportedly killed in the operation on May 2, 2011.

Afridi was subsequently found to have carried out the program with Save the Children's sponsorship. A senior Save the Children official shortly after Afridi's arrest told CBS News that the charity was only aware of Afridi's work to help children in a country where impoverished families cannot afford the expense of immunization and had no connections with the CIA.

In January 2012, US officials publicly admitted that Afridi had worked for the CIA. In May 2012 he was jailed for 33 years for crimes against the state that included assisting a banned militant group. The prison term incensed the U.S. lawmakers, who at one point suggested cutting $1 million in aid for Pakistan for every year of the sentence. Obama administration officials have called on Pakistan to release Afridi.

In a July 2012 report, Pakistani investigators said that Dr. Shakil Afridi met 25 times with "foreign secret agents, received instructions and provided sensitive information to them." Afridi told investigators that the charity Save the Children helped facilitate his meeting with US intelligence agents although the charity denies the charge. The report said that Save the Children's Pakistan director at the time of the incident, Michael McGrath, introduced Afridi to a western woman in Islamabad and that Afridi and the woman met regularly afterwards. [Wikipedia]

In January 2013, the deans of twelve top U.S. schools of public health sent a letter to President Obama protesting against the entanglement of intelligence operations in public health campaigns. The letter describes the negative and lasting impacts of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) use of a fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan during the hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2011, which exacerbated the already persistent public mistrust of vaccines in the country. [Wikipedia]

In a leading English newspaper, The News, columnist Ansar Abbasi wrote that the government's U-turn in the case of Save the Children has not only embarrassed the government, it has humiliated the whole nation, as this incident proved that Pakistan is not independent even to take a decision against an NGO which it said has been involved in anti-Pakistan activities. He went on to say that the foreign-funded and dollar-driven NGOs are more powerful than the government of Pakistan and its institutions, as they continue to circumvent all attempts to regulate and audit their funding.

NGOs became front organizations

Pakistan is not the only country which is suspicious about the activities of NGOs. Neighboring India has cancelled registrations for close to 9,000 foreign-funded NGOs, citing the failure of the NGOs to file funding information. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says the work of those organizations undermine India's national interest. Some NGOs have been placed on a "watch list," rumored to include such well-known NGOs as the Climate Work Foundation, the Danish International Development Agency, Greenpeace, Netherlands-based Hivos, Mercy Corps and the Sierra Club. Other NGOs have had their bank accounts frozen. Among those targeted is the New York-based Ford Foundation. According to Newsweek there are 3.2 million NGOs operating in India, of which some 40,000 are registered.

In the 21st century, NGOs have turned out to be important players in the international arena. NGOs are responsible for various humanitarian affairs, which are linked to poverty, civil freedom and environment, however, the Western governments are well known for using the NGOs as a tool to better implement their foreign policies.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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