ISLAMABAD - Amid Pakistan’s ongoing troubled relations with the United States, the government has recently shut down around 10 US-based international aid groups working in the country — a decision that reflects policies of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led federal government towards Washington.

During this week, the Ministry of Interior ordered to shut down operations of more than 18 international non-government organisations (INGOs) that were working in Pakistan in areas of education, poverty alleviation, health, human rights and women empowerment.

A list of these banned aid groups seen by The Nation includes 10 US-based INGOs, including Save the Children who had come under the scanner of country’s security agencies after its alleged role in tracking Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad through a fake vaccination campaign. On May 2, 2011, US Navy Seals in a midnight operation had killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. After the incident, many INGOs are under strict surveillance of the Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies as they view that many of these international aid groups are spying in the country under the cover of charity organisations.

The other US-based international relief groups whose operations have been closed in Pakistan are Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Internews Netwrok, Pathfinder International, Central Asia Education Trust, American Center for Intl Labor Solidarity (Solidarity Center), World Vision, Catholic Relief Svc (CRS), Plan International, and International Relief and Development Inc, (IRD).

The tensions between US and Pakistan flared at the end of August this year before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan when Pentagon decided to withhold $300 million in military aid to Pakistan out of the Coalition Support Fund.

The other INGOs who have been banned in the country include three of UK, two of Netherlands and four each of Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy. The British-based aid groups are International Alert, Saferworld and Action Aid. The Stichting BRAC International and Rutgers are Netherland based who have also been ordered to close their operations. The other four INGOs who have received shutdown orders are Ireland-based Trocaire, Demark-based Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Switzerland’s Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI) and ISCOS, Trade Union Institute for Development Coop belonged that belonged to Italy.

An official who works at Save the Children in its Islamabad office wishing anonymity said that the organisation has received shutdown orders. “We are under strict instructions from the organisation not to speak on the issue,” he said.

Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), said that the decision to close international aid groups including most of the US-based organisations could be seen in the context of troubled US-Pakistan relations. “It is now apparent that the new government has developed a strict regime for international aid groups,” he said, adding that many of these INGOs were political foundations who worked in the areas of human rights and electoral reforms. Mr Rana said that the government viewed that these INGOs nurture liberal and secular class of the country and perhaps it wanted to stifle the liberal voices in the country. He said that the decision to shut down these groups will affect the poor people living in far-off areas of Sindh and Balochistan where their relief activities were underway.

Ministry of Interior on October 4 had ordered these INGOs to wind up their operations within 60 days and leave the country. The ministry has told them that they can apply for fresh registration after a period of six months without mentioning any reason for the expulsion order.

All these INGOs had already filed an appeal before the Ministry of Interior against its expulsion orders issued last year. The ministry last year had denied registration to around 27 INGOs and they were told that they could file appeal against the decision whose decision would be made within a given timeframe under a policy. However, they were given relief later after their representatives met with the then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal.

The ministry after the meeting put on hold the decision on their appeals. Now the PTI government has rejected their appeals.

In 2015, then Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government had introduced stricter policy for INGOs and all international aid groups were asked to apply for fresh registration with the interior ministry under the new policy. Then government had also transferred the task of registration of INGOs from Economic Affairs Division to Ministry of Interior.