Pakistan has ordered all international aid agencies to renew their registration with the government within 60 days, its interior minister said on Thursday (1), amid a crackdown on charity workers whom authorities accuse of breaking unspecified laws.
The announcement of new guidelines underlines the difficulties many foreigners face while working in Pakistan, a nation of 190 million people plagued by poverty and militancy. Diplomats and foreign aid workers face severe restrictions on movement and are sometimes accused of using their work as a cover for espionage.
Under the new policy announced by interior minister Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday, international NGOs would have to register online within the next 60 days and would be told within 60 days of registering whether or not they had permission to operate in Pakistan.
Charities would have approval to work in Pakistan for three years, after which each case would be reassessed, and there would be stricter oversight of visas issued to foreign aid workers.
“In the last 10 to 14 years, the largest international organisations are working here without any approvals or permissions,” Khan said during a press conference.
“There will be no permission to do any kind of work that would affect Pakistan’s economic, security or national interests.”
In June this year, officials gave Save the Children 15 days to leave the country but then suspended the order to shut down the charity two days later.
Save the Children has worked in Pakistan for over 35 years. In 2011, it was linked by officials to a Pakistani doctor recruited by the CIA to help in the hunt that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden inAbbottabad.
The charity has always denied any link to the doctor or the CIA.
Pakistan deregistered 3,000 local aid groups in December 2014, according to CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.
A draft bill, the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 2015, would make it easier for officials to prevent groups that receive foreign funds from operating in Pakistan.
“International NGOs cannot raise funds inside or outside Pakistan without taking the government ofPakistan’s permission first,” Khan said.
“Local NGOs cannot be supported by international NGOs in any way without the permission of the government of Pakistan. Any illegal activity of any kind will bring about automatic cancellation [of approval].”