Chaudhry Nisar is a man who knows how to respect the power of bureaucratic procedure. Some might say he’s even a stickler for such things. Just look at how he single-handedly identified the real culprit in the gruesome story of the two Chinese nationals recently executed by the sword of ISIS: certain lapses in visa regulation for foreign nationals. Yes, really.
The minister of the Interior is nothing if not a man of consistency. It is this same attention to detail, this same insistence at looking at the smaller picture that is at play in his so-called crackdown on international non-governmental organisations (INGOs). The latter, he trumpeted, would never be allowed “to work against our national security interests”. So there. For the citizens of Pakistan who assumed that this was a given, well, now, they have the memo. INGOs, however, would be required to hand over particular information to the government from time to time. Whatever could this mean? ‘Spying’ on populations in restive areas of the country by means of accessing local databases compiled by the odious INGOs? Quite possibly. But that’s the thing about Nisar. He has no qualms about getting into bed with those he terms as potential threats to national security. Yet we should perhaps spare a thought for his other bedfellows — those sectarian enemies of the state — who have thus been so publicly concubined.
For all this attention to supposed detail, the Pakistani citizenry knows that they have been here before. Gen Musharraf is said to have had his fingers burned when spooks entered the country under the guise of aid and reconstruction workers in the immediate post-earthquake aftermath. And then, in the midst of the 2010 floods we had PM Gilani’s outburst in which he accused INGOs of spending up to 80 percent of funding on vast overhead expenditure. Which naturally begs the question: if the then government was in the know of (alleged) misappropriation of funds — then why was it not doing anything about it?
It is not often we say this, but we stand with the Interior minister. At least in his efforts to regulate the international NGO sector. In fact, we hope he doesn’t stop there. Meaning that the question must also be addressed of foreign donors setting much of the development agenda from international headquarters. Not to mention the pricing of local experts out of the market.
Yet transparency remains an absolute must. Under the current regime, of the 66 INGOs that have been registered as per Interior Ministry directives 10 have already seen their applications rejected. The fate is said to await the applications of 36 INGOs that are still pending. But that is all we know. Other than assessment is to be based on the socio-economic impact of the ventures, as well as overall project performance. Whatever these may mean. Without concrete indicators in place — such vague terms of assessment risk simply being mistaken for the capricious rhetoric of a government gearing up for election year. We sincerely hope that this is not the case and that the Interior minister is merely doing his best to keep a lid on things until the registration deadline passes, scheduled for the end of next month.
Sadly, it seems that much of the devil remains in the detail. And Chaudhry Nisar does love detail. *