Pak PM Imran Khan tightens noose over NGOs to silence dissent
Alleging that the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Pakistan have been receiving foreign funds to promote the “enemy agenda” and are working against the state, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has now banned several NGOs in the country to crush dissent.
Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been under pressure in Pakistan for many years, but suppression under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has intensified as he ordered 18 foreign NGOs to close their operations and leave the country since 2018.
Activists and rights groups asserted that the crackdown on civil society organisations is part of the authorities’ broader plan to silence dissent.
Khan took up the issue of NGOs’ foreign funding in a Cabinet meeting last month amid increasing concerns that his government is suppressing freedom of speech in the country.
“The way Khan’s government banned several international NGOs and took measures to create problems for local NGOs is alarming. We have never experienced this situation before. The government also wants to control the media,” said Mohammad Tahseen, Executive Director of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan organization.
Meanwhile, Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars negated the age-old allegations International NGOs are “essentially a front for intelligence operations.”
“In a country where foreign intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, have long made a mark, it’s an easy narrative to sell. Many in Pakistan believe that Save the Children was involved in the CIA-sponsored fake vaccination campaign that helped track down Osama Bin Laden. Longstanding suspicion about foreign NGOs was heightened after the Bin Laden raid, and it has remained strong today,” Kugelman said.
Tahseen lambasted the Khan-led government over the crackdown on NGOs and said, “It is easier for the government to target NGOs than to work for the welfare of the citizens. There is no evidence that NGOs are working against the country. NGOs are actually performing a very important role to enhance human development, fundamental rights and social justice in Pakistan.”
Moreover, political analyst Qamar Cheema pointed to the lack of trust between state authorities and civil society groups. “The state fears that these organizations might create national disorder. It hopes to manage the situation.”
Kugelman said: “There is a concern about how foreign money enters Pakistan, and how it is used. The irony is that the security establishment has long welcomed foreign assistance for itself. Expelling foreign NGOs just because they’re not properly accounting for their funding sounds harsh”.
The clampdown on foreign-funded NGOs has, to a large extent, dissuaded international donors and NGOs from engaging with Pakistan. Experts say this will have a negative impact on the country’s poor, who benefit from international cooperation.
“The crackdown is tarnishing the country’s image. Pakistan is losing international aid and support,” asserted Tahseen.