Pakistan has gone ahead and expelled 18 international aid agencies from the country; after the latter lost their appeal reviews. The US has been quick to denounce the move while unnamed western diplomats have pointed out that 11 million of the country’s most vulnerable will now be at increased risk. This question of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) here in Pakistan is an ongoing one. Indeed, since October 2015 some 141 INGOs have applied for registration; with just over half — 74 — being approved. Then, last year, 27 were asked to leave while 18 chose to appeal. Thus to be clear, Pakistan has not closed its door entirely to the INGO sector. But it does seem to be trimming the fat. And it has every right to do so. That being said, the Senate functional committee on Human Rights determined last month that the Interior ministry, headed by the Prime Minister, had overstepped its mark in expelling these foreign entitles working in the development sector. The panel’s objection was that the work of INGOs necessarily fell within the purview of the Economic Affairs Division. And that any change to this should have been voted on by the federal cabinet. None of which addresses the collective complaint by the INGOs in question that that they were not provided with a reason for their expulsion. This should have been done as a matter of procedure; while also alerting the international development sector as to what Pakistan’s red lines may be. When all is said and done, the objective of sustainable development is to render itself redundant over certain periods of time. But the problem here for many is the timing of this latest move. For it comes at a point when the Centre is cracking down on dissent and curbing the media; a practice that had begun under the last political set-up. In the minds of the international community, therefore, the banishing of even some INGOs is linked to an overall shrinking of the breathing space. Thus the best thing for the government to do is it provide a public account of when and where so-called red lines were crossed. After all, every nation has the right to issue a mandate of sorts to international development workers. Yet controversies only arise when everyone is kept in the dark. * Published in Daily Times, December 6th 2018.