ISLAMABAD - The Government of Pakistan has ordered a host of international aid groups to wrap up their operations in 60 days, a global NGO said Wednesday, as officials tighten controls on foreign charities in the country.
Authorities have moved to force overseas-funded aid organisations to re-register under stricter rules that came into force two years ago, leading several to lose their licences.
“We believe that we are one of more than 20 organisations whose registrations have been rejected,” Jonathan Birchall, the lead Communications Officer for Open Society Foundations told AFP.
The organisation, which is funded by the US billionaire philanthropist George Soros and runs a raft of programmes from education to governance, had earlier issued a statement seeking clarification from the interior ministry over the move.
International charity ActionAid, which supports a range of projects from livelihoods to women’s rights, has also said it is being forced to leave Pakistan.
The organisation “has been given 60 days to close all operations in the country”, it said in a statement released last week, after its application to register under Pakistan’s new rules for international non-governmental organisations was declined.
Pakistan officials declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
In September, the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had been ordered to close its facilities in a militancy-wracked tribal district, leaving thousands without healthcare.
While militancy and natural disasters plague parts of Pakistan, the country has shown increasing suspicion of foreign aid groups in recent years.
In 2012, a Pakistan intelligence report linked the aid group Save the Children to the doctor, Shakeel Afridi, who the CIA used to carry out a fake vaccination programme as they searched for Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Save the Children has always denied it had any links with Afridi or the CIA. But the charity’s expat staff were forced to leave Pakistan after the accusations emerged.
Pakistan has since hardened its policies towards international aid groups, accusing them of being covers for spying operations, and has repeatedly warned them to restrict their activities.
According to Reuters, the government has told at least 10 foreign-funded aid groups to close.
In January, it ordered about a dozen groups working on women’s issues and human rights to halt their operations.
A representative of the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), which represents 63 international aid groups, said the Ministry of Interior had issued 10 of its members “letters of rejection”, meaning their applications to register had been rejected.
The forum did not identify the 10 groups but two international groups, the Pakistani branch of the Soros’ charity the Open Society Foundations, and ActionAid, said they had been told they had to close.
“We obviously find what has happened both disappointing and surprising, and are urgently seeking clarification,” the executive director of the Open Society’s Pakistani office, Saba Khattak, said in a statement.
The group had spent $37 million on grants and relief assistance in Pakistan since 2005, she said.
The interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment. However, the ministry, in a letter to one of the 10 groups and seen by Reuters, said its registration application had been denied.
“Wind up operations/activities of above-said INGO within 60 days,” the ministry said in the letter.
It did give a reason why the group had to stop its work.
The ministry lists 139 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) on its website that have submitted registration applications, of which 72 are still being processed.
There is no list of those whose applications have been denied.
“During the lengthy INGO registration process we provided all the information and documents required and are confident we comply with all necessary rules and regulations,” ActionAid country director Iftikhar Nizami said in a statement.