Pakistani scrutiny for multiple NGOs could close Catholic Relief Services

Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, speaks at a 2012 meeting of the World Economic Forum. Credit: Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, speaks at a 2012 meeting of the World Economic Forum. Credit: Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

.- Catholic Relief Services is among the 18 international organizations ordered closed by Pakistan’s new government without explanation. The move follows allegations related to the U.S. government’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden, in which a doctor’s false vaccination campaign claimed to be linked to the NGO Save the Children.

Most of the groups under the order are U.S.-based, with the rest from the U.K. and the European Union, the Associated Press reported Oct. 5.

World Vision and International Relief and Development are among the other U.S. groups affected, while the U.K.-based ActionAid and the Denmark-based Danish Relief Council are also under orders to close, the Associated Press reports. According to the Pakistani newspaper The Nation, the Pakistani branch of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations is among the organizations.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry issued the order. The organizations have 60 days to end operations in Pakistan.

Catholic Relief Services declined comment on the matter.

Beginning in 2015, the Interior Ministry required stricter and more detailed online registration application for NGOs. The move was prompted by fears that some NGOs were using their charitable status to spy on Pakistan – and one observer said it is connected to the U.S. government’s hunt for bin Laden.

Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, told the AP that ahead of the 2011 U.S. Navy Seal operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan, a Pakistani doctor used a fake vaccination scam to attempt to identify the al-Qaeda leader’s home using DNA acquired from his relatives.

The Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, said he was working for the NGO Save the Children to gain access to the bin Laden compound.

According to Reuters, he had been recruited by the CIA to help find bin Laden. He has been in jail since 2011.

Save the Children has denied any links to the CIA, and said the doctor’s claimed link with the NGO was false, but its non-Pakistani staff were forced to leave the country, Agence France Presse reports.

In 2012 the NGO’s then-country representative David Wright charged that intelligence agencies had broken international law and put at risk the safety of aid groups around the world.

“The blame lies squarely with the CIA which use humanitarian work for intelligence gathering or worse,” he said, according to the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. “If it continues then we won't be able to do our jobs at all in 10 years’ time.”

Rana said that Pakistan, including its intelligence agency, also views many international aid organizations as advocates of “liberal, secular voices.”

In December 2017 Pakistan’s previous government ordered 10 other foreign-funded aid groups to close, including the Pakistani branch of the Open Society Foundations. That order was not enforced in time.

The U.K.-based Plan International also faces a denied registration. The NGO focuses on education and child rights and often partners with the government on water and sanitation projects and disaster management.

Imran Yusuf Shami, Plan International’s country director, said the NGO employs dozens of people, all of whom are Pakistani, and aids tens of thousands of the poorest people in the country.

Shami said the NGO closures will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

Tags: Catholic News, Pakistan, CRS