Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pakistan "follows" Modi government footsteps, cracks down on NGOs, closes down Save the Children office

The sealed Save the Children office 
By Our Representative
The Narendra Modi government has found "support" for its crackdown on civil society groups from unexpected quarters: Pakistan. In a move that should "please" the Government of India seeking to  restrict NGO activities, the Islamabad authorities have charged well-known international child rights group Save the Children for carrying out "espionage activities", sealing its office.
"The crackdown comes at a time of constricting freedoms of expression and movement in Pakistan, and drew an unusually public rebuke from the State Department, whose spokesman, John Kirby, described Save the Children as a group that had 'long operated with transparency' in Pakistan", comments influential US daily New York Times (NYT) in a report from Islamabad.
The NYT report says, ever since 2011 Save the Children faced accusations that "a senior official with the group had helped the CIA recruit a Pakistani doctor who became involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden." NYT quotes interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as saying, “We will support those NGOs who are doing a good job. But we cannot allow anti-state NGOs."
While Save the Children office in Pakistan has been sealed down, NYT says, iMMAP, Washington-based data-analysis organization that works with aid groups, also simultaneously faced a similar fate after "Pakistani officials accused the group of mapping military installations."
Earlier, in 2014, the government closed the Norwegian Refugee Council amid official accusations that its staff had been collecting data from the tribal regions in an "unauthorized way", the daily says in a report titled "Pakistan Warns Aid Groups to Follow Unspecified Rules."
"Analysts warned that while military and intelligence agencies sought to uncover any Western espionage in the guise of relief work, in expelling Save the Children they also sought to signal that organizations working independently would not be tolerated", says NYT, quoting editor of a well-known Pakistani daily "Dawn" Cyril Almeida as saying, “The state is signaling that security comes before public welfare.” said , an editor at Dawn newspaper.
Saying that "an old paranoia is adjusting to new perceived threats”, NYT points to how Pakisani "the authorities have quietly attempted to nudge other foreigners out of the country in recent months, usually by refusing to extend visas." Already, it says, "a dozen Western organizations have been put under scrutiny."
The daily qoutes Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier and former officer with the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the powerful military spy agency, saying that the ban on Save the Children "reflected a deeply ingrained mind-set that Western aid groups were working against Pakistani culture or, since the Bin Laden raid, engaged in espionage."
"Several analysts said that the restrictions were part of a broader effort, orchestrated by the military, to curb debate over human rights abuses in sensitive areas like Baluchistan, the southern province where the army has been accused of widespread torture and extrajudicial executions", NYT underlines.

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