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June 17, 2015

Pakistan briefly bans Save the Children: The politics of NGOs

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Pakistan has suspended moves to close the national branch of the charity Save the Children. The move by the interior ministry comes three days after the charity's main office in the capital Islamabad was shut down by police on June 12, 2015.

The United States swiftly warned Pakistan it was only hurting itself after Save the Children was expelled for "working against the country," with Islamabad threatening to throw out more foreign aid groups. "This has had a significant negative impact on international partner efforts to support government of Pakistan priorities," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Tellingly, speaking after the charity's offices were shut, Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan said NGOs were operating beyond their remit with backing from US, Israel and India. He said local NGOs that used foreign funding to implement a foreign agenda in Pakistan "should be scared".

Nisar said that there are several NGOs operating in Pakistan without any specific agenda. He said that most of them were taking part in “anti-Pakistan” activities. Without naming any organizations, he said some NGOs had been operating without proper regulation and had worked in volatile Baluchistan province when they had permission only to work in Islamabad.

The Interior Minister said that the ministry was receiving several intelligence reports about illegal NGOs, but no action was being taken against them.  He said parliament was debating whether to expose the foreign NGOs bent on undermining Pakistan. "Many NGOs are working against Pakistan and we are deliberating on exposing them in the parliament," Nisar told reporters.

Pakistan's government announced on June 16 that international aid groups can operate for another six months provided they register with officials in three months' time.

It may be pointed out that Save the Children is linked to a fake vaccination program used by the CIA to track down Osama Bin Laden.

Dr. Shakeel Afridi

Three weeks after the US commando raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistani Dr. Shakeel Afridi was arrested for carrying out a fake immunization program for the CIA that sought to take cheek swab samples of bin Laden's children to be matched with available DNA records of Bin Ladin who was reportedly killed in the operation on May 2, 2011.

Afridi was subsequently found to have carried out the program with Save the Children's sponsorship. A senior Save the Children official shortly after Afridi's arrest told CBS News that the charity was only aware of Afridi's work to help children in a country where impoverished families cannot afford the expense of immunization and had no connections with the CIA.

In January 2012, US officials publicly admitted that Afridi had worked for CIA. In May 2012 he was jailed for 33 years for crimes against the state that included assisting a banned militant group. The prison term incensed the U.S. lawmakers, who at one point suggested cutting $1 million in aid for Pakistan for every year of the sentence. Obama administration officials have called on Pakistan to release Afridi.

In a July 2012 report, Pakistani investigators said that Dr. Shakil Afridi met 25 times with "foreign secret agents, received instructions and provided sensitive information to them." Afridi told investigators that the charity Save the Children helped facilitate his meeting with US intelligence agents although the charity denies the charge. The report said that Save the Children's Pakistan director at the time of the incident, Michael McGrath, introduced Afridi to a western woman in Islamabad and that Afridi and the woman met regularly afterwards. [Wikipedia]

In January 2013, the Deans of twelve top U.S. schools of public health sent a letter to President Obama protesting against the entanglement of intelligence operations in public health campaigns. The letter describes the negative and lasting impacts of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) use of a fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan during the hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2011, which exacerbated the already persistent public mistrust of vaccines in the country. [Wikipedia]

A leading English newspaper, The News, columnist Ansar Abbasi wrote the government’s U-turn in the case of Save the Children has not only embarrassed the government it has humiliated the whole nation as this incident proved that Pakistan is not independent even to take a decision against an NGO which it said has been involved in anti-Pakistan activities. He went on to say that the foreign-funded and dollar-driven NGOs are more powerful than the government of Pakistan and its institutions, as they continue to circumvent all attempts to regulate and audit their funding.

NGOs became front organizations

Pakistan is not the only country which is suspicious about the activities of NGOs. Neighboring India has cancelled registrations for close to 9,000 foreign-funded NGOs, citing the failure of the NGOs to file funding information. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says the work of those organizations undermine India's national interest. Some NGOs have been placed on a “watch list,” rumored to include such well-known NGOs as the Climate Work Foundation, the Danish International Development Agency,  Greenpeace, Netherlands-based Hivos, Mercy Corps and the Sierra Club. Other NGOs have had their bank accounts frozen.  Among those targeted is the New York-based Ford Foundation. According to Newsweek there are 3.2 million NGOs operating in India, of which some 40,000 are registered.

In the 21st century, NGOs have turned out to become the most important players at the international arena. Apparently NGOs are responsible for various humanitarian affairs, which are linked to poverty, civil freedom and environment,  however, the Western governments  are very well known for using the NGOs as a tool to better implement their foreign policies.

There are many examples of the NGOs meddling with host countries' internal affairs. Just few examples:

In April 2015 Western aid workers of the International Rescue Committee (IRC),  headed by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, were thrown out of pro-Moscow eastern Ukraine on suspicion of 'espionage'.

In April 2012, Ugandan government accused two international organizations, Oxfam and Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) of inciting violence over land issues. Ugandan government threatened to expel both the NGOs. The ULA and Food Rights Alliance (FRA), a consortium of over 60 NGOs, organized protests against Uganda government's land development program that was described by the NGOs as land grabbing. One of their week-long protest attracted activists from as far as Netherlands, local NGOs and the church. The Internal Affairs Minister, Hillary Onek summoned the representatives of the NGOs and asked them what land grabbing they are campaigning against and whether it exists in Uganda.

In December 2003, the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia moved to shut down or expel major NGOs. In Ecuador, the Ministry of Environment dissolved the Pachamama Foundation after accusing it of anti-government activities. Bolivia expelled of the organization IBIS, NGO supported primarily by Denmark’s foreign development agency).  The Bolivian government accused IBIS of  political meddling.

NGOs a cover for spying in Russia? 

Tellingly  on May 12, 2005, Russian Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev told the State Duma that U.S., British and other foreign non-govermental organizations are providing cover for professional spies in Russia, while Western organizations are bankrolling plans to stage peaceful revolutions in Belarus and other former Soviet republics bordering Russia.

Patrushev said the FSB has monitored and exposed intelligence gathering activities carried out by the U.S. Peace Corps, the British-based Merlin medical relief charity, Kuwait's Society of Social Reforms and the Saudi Red Crescent Society. He said foreign secret services rely on NGOs to collect information and promote the interests of their countries.

He said directors of the U.S. International Republican Institute's CIS offices recently met in Bratislava, Slovakia, to discuss ways of supporting the Belarussian opposition. "At the meeting, they discussed the possibility of continuing orange revolutions" in former Soviet republics, Patrushev said adding, the directors decided to allocate $5 million for projects to support the opposition and to study the feasibility of recruiting Ukrainians to train the opposition.

A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on behalf of the government-funded Peace Corps, dismissed Patrushev's claims as "completely baseless." "We deny them utterly," the official said.

The Peace Corps began sending volunteers to Russia in 1992, but the program was abruptly canceled in 2003 after Russian authorities refused to issue visas to volunteers, saying Russia was as developed as West European countries and those countries did not receive Peace Corps volunteers.

NGO: The Guise of Innocence

Irish writer Jenny O'Connor provides a graphic insight into the US government attempts to influence national political transitions through "non-governmental organizations" with strong links to the state and policymaking elites. Under the title "NGO: The Guise of Innocence" he writes:

"In December (2011) Egyptian prosecutors and police raided 17 offices of 10 groups identifying themselves as “pro-democracy” NGOs, including 4 US based agencies. Forty three people, including 16 US citizens, were accused of failing to register with the government and financing the April 6th protest movement with illicit funds in a manner that detracted from the sovereignty of the Egyptian state.

"The US applied massive pressure on Egypt to drop the case, sending high-level officials to Cairo for intense discussions and threatened to cut off up to $1.3bn in military aid and $250m in economic assistance if the US citizens were tried. A travel ban was imposed on seven of them by Egypt’s Attorney General, including Sam LaHood, son of Obama’s Transportation Secretary. By the first day of the case all but the seven with travel restrictions had left the country and those who remained did not even attend court. A day after the ban was lifted a military plane removed the remaining 7 US citizens from Egypt after the US government provided nearly $5m in bail.

"The international community expressed its outrage at the affair and accused the Egyptian military of inciting paranoia of foreign interference so as to deflect attention from the slow pace of political and democratic reform a year after the revolution. Amid the high-profile diplomatic strife there was an almost total global journalistic silence on the nature and funding of these ‘NGOs’, rarely even mentioning them by name.

"The people who stood trial were repeatedly referred to by governments and the media as ‘NGO workers’. The 43 defendants worked for five specific organisations; Freedom House; the National Democratic Institute (NDI); the International Republican Institute (IRI); the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Only one of these organisations, the ICFJ, does not receive the majority of its funding either directly or indirectly from a government, but it does regularly receive large grants from US government sources.

"The NDI, chaired by Madeline Albright, and the IRI, chaired by Senator John McCain, represent the US Democratic and Republican political parties. The NDI and IRI, together with the Center for International Private Enterprise, which represents the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Solidarity Centre, which represents the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), make up the four “core institutions” of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED is a non-profit, grant-making institution that receives more than 90% of its annual budget from the US government. While Freedom House claims to be independent it regularly receives the majority of its funding from the NED and the ICFJ regularly receives large NED grants. The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, sometimes referred to as the German NED, is a non-profit foundation associated with the Christian Democratic Union. It receives over 90% of its funding from the German government. This means that the IRI, the NDI, the Konrad Adenauer Stifung and, to a lesser extent, Freedom House and the ICFJ- are state sponsored institutions and cannot be defined as NGOs."

The term 'NGO' is regularly used deliberately to create an illusion of innocent philanthropic activity, Connor said adding: In this case the Egyptian government was investigating the operations of organizations in receipt of US state funding which have a proven history of covertly funding political parties, influencing elections and aiding coups against both autocratic and democratic non-compliant and left-leaning governments around the world. Yet one mention of the Egyptian government's raid on the offices of so-called ‘pro-democracy NGOs’ in Cairo was enough to spark an international outcry. The result was an almost complete failure by the Western press to investigate at all the history of the organizations involved or the validity of the charges being brought against them.

It may not be too much to say that the Western imperialism is exploiting NGOs to destabilize countries or parts of the countries it had failed to bring them to their knees through military power or other destructive measures.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( Email: asghazali2011 (@)