The government’s initiative to monitor international non-government organisations (INGOs) was a necessary one – that much everyone agrees. Yet from the start it was feared that the government would wrap up the new procedures in so much bureaucratic red tape that it would disincentive legitimate and helpful organisations from carrying out operations in the country. The government’s new policy for the regulation of INGOs unfortunately errs in that direction; the requirements are strict and overbearing, and the policy makers have shown no appreciation of the different kinds of roles INGOs can play.

It must be said that the policy makers have their heart in the right place, the process has been made online for easier access, rights of appeal is offered, all the while requiring INGOs to present financial details, organisational objectives and to inform the government before receiving international funds, individuals or services. While this will help the Interior Ministry monitor rouge INGOs much better, the one-size-fits-all policy is bound to act as a hurdle for INGOs working for the benefit of the people.

Firstly an INGO is so loosely defined that it can encompass most modern enterprises, and secondly all INGOs have to seek permission from the Interior Ministry every time it decides to do anything of note. Be it going to an area beyond the base of operations, starting a new project, gathering or canvassing money, or collaborating with local organisations, the Ministry of Interior needs to bless it first. Knowing the state of Pakistani bureaucracy – which causes inordinate delays and seeks remuneration for the smallest act – INGOs are going to find themselves unable to make a difference.

Chaudary Nisar needs to tone down his pet project or risk losing scores of INGOs which could have truly helped Pakistan. Yet it seems that the minister has no intention of doing so, and for a reason. Sticking to the oppressive routine, the notice contains clause that say that INGOs are any INGO working against “Pakistani interests and government policy” or engaging in “anti-Pakistan activities” will be banned – yet it does not define what any of these terms mean. In effect this means that the Ministry of Interior, which has all INGOs at its mercy, can arbitrarily decide to shut down the ones it doesn’t like. The notice gives no objective standard or criteria through which a performance of an INGO can be measured.