The government of Pakistan has instructed at least ten foreign-funded aid organizations, including the Open Society Foundations (OSF), to wrap up operations in the country within sixty days, Reuters reports.
The Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), which represents sixty-three international aid groups in the country, told Reuters that at the end of November the Ministry of Interior had responded to applications from ten of its members with "letters of rejection." "Wind up operations/activities of above said INGO within sixty days," the letters stated, without giving any reason for the directive.
In October 2015, the government ordered all international NGOs operating in Pakistan to register with the ministry, a process requiring the submission of detailed accounts of their current and past project funding. According to Reuters, the ministry lists a hundred and thirty-nine international NGOs that have submitted applications, with seventy-two still pending. In January 2017, the ministry ordered about a dozen groups working on women's issues and human rights to halt their operations. Pakistan has toughened its stance toward domestic and international aid groups in recent years, and has accused some of using their work as a cover for espionage, Reuters reports.
In a statement, OSF said its office in Pakistan is seeking clarification from the government. While the organizations whose applications were rejected can lodge an appeal within ninety days, it is not clear how the process will be managed. In a press release, PHF said it responded to Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's minister for interior and planning, development, and reforms, asking for clarification on a number of issues, including the process for filing an appeal under the INGO registration policy clause and whether organizations will be able to continue operations and activities until their appeal has been decided.
"The Open Society Foundations have invested some $37 million in grants and relief assistance in Pakistan since 2005, working with the full support of the government," said Saba Khattak, executive director of OSF's Pakistan office. "We obviously find what has happened both disappointing and surprising, and are urgently seeking clarification. We naturally expect the decision will be reviewed in the best interests of the vulnerable communities we serve and advocate for."
South Africa-based ActionAid also received a "letter of rejection" from the ministry. "During the lengthy INGO registration process," ActionAid country director Iftikhar Nizami said in a statement, "we provided all the information and documents required and are confident we comply with all necessary rules and regulations."