Are NGOs and INGOs aiding Pakistan’s Corona fight?

Historically, the role of NGOs and INGOs in Pakistan has been dubious. Therefore, both civilian and military regimes remained skeptical of their role. Are these organizations playing any role in the current situation? Is it positive?

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The Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF) and the National Humanitarian Network (NHN) have offered all-out cooperation and support to the government in the ongoing battle against coronavirus outbreak in the country. The non-governmental organizations are now offering support to the government in order to contain COVID19. Recently, the government allowed to work many NGOs before signing formal MoUs.

“We fully appreciate the clear commitment and resolve shown by federal and provincial governments in ensuring quality and timely medical care being provided to those affected by coronavirus pandemic. We also reaffirm our resolve to extend all-out assistance to the government in its relief operations across country to protect communities and citizens in these hard times,” a joint statement issued by both the organizations read.

Read more: NGOs: Difficult relationship with Pakistani state and society?

Both PHF and NHN as platforms of active and credible international and national NGOs and humanitarian workers from across Pakistan offered their support to the government authorities in areas of food security and nutrition programs, livelihood uplift and economic empowerment. “We can provide sizeable outreach support to government, especially in reaching difficult/remote areas, accessing communities, identifying people in need and raising awareness on safe practices and preventive measures through nationwide campaigns,” the statement read.

“The organizations who are part of both networks have already activated their health facilities to support the government in dealing with the pandemic and will make allout efforts to arrange required medical kits and equipment without any cost,” it added.

Both the networks appreciated the timely decision of the Ministry of Interior allowing national and international NGOs to step up their efforts in support of NDMA and PDMAs and all other local, provincial and national authorities fighting against COVID-19 outbreak.

Read more: Opinion: Religious clerics will make COVID-19 worse in Pakistan?

“The decision indicates confidence of the government in the role and contribution of INGOs in tackling such national catastrophes in the
past and will also boost avenues of cooperation, joint action and complementarity of efforts. However, streamlining formal coordination mechanisms can fetch positive outcomes efficiently and effectively in such difficult situations,” the statement read.

Both the organizations appreciated the commitment and voluntary spirit of frontline healthcare workers, paramedics, law enforcement agencies and army personnel helping out citizens by risking their own lives. They also welcomed the announcement financial assistance Prime Minister Imran Khan to strengthen the response by institutions, organizations, volunteers and authorities in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.

Exemption from signing MoUs granted

The government on last Thursday exempted local NGOs from signing Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) to utilize foreign economic assistance for a period of six months. The exemption would only be applicable to those NGOs that had applied to EAD for signing of MoUs.

It is worth mentioning here that the previous government had approved the policy and had made it mandatory for NGOs to sign MoUs with the government containing information, including project details and details about the geographical area in which it was to be carried out.

Currently, 92 NGOs have signed MoUs with the EAD and around 100 organizations’ documents have been distributed to the concerned departments for clearance.

It is worth noting that the United States of America and several European states were not happy with the recent crackdown against some of the International non-governmental organizations which had intensified since PTI assumed office. Recently, as many as 17 INGOs and their national subsidiaries were ordered to halt their operations with immediate effect and many of the employees were even asked to leave the country.

Read more: Opinion: Forty years of Afghan Refugees: Effects on Pakistan & their repatriation

Historically, aid networks have been used as a cover to undertake clandestine activities. Pakistan is facing a multifaceted, hybrid warfare where the distinction between a friend and foe is oblique. There has been multiple instances in past, where some of the renowned and large-scale INGOS like ‘Save the children’ was asked to wrap up its operation in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s threat spectrum is multi-layered; its enemies operate inside its border, this make it rather difficult for security forces to combat them. Therefore, Pakistan needs to have all the resources in place to check for malicious organizations that are working against the interest of the state.

Pakistani authorities are highly skeptical of international NGO’s, especially after 2011 Abbottabad fiasco. Pakistani intelligence accused ‘Save the children’ for being in cahoots with CIA, which they obviously deny. National security will always be of primary concern to policymakers, but the fact; that 30% of the Pakistani population lives below the poverty line cannot be ignored.