ISLAMABAD - The opposition lawmakers yesterday in the Senate showed concerns over the government’s policy regarding local and international organizations to tighten the noose against the civil society organizations advocating people’s rights.

Taking part in the debate on a motion about the government’s policy on national and international NGOs and the Ministry of Interior’s new guidelines from their regulations, they voiced concerns over the “shrinking space for those NGOs whose main area of work is advocacy of human rights.

Opposition senators called the new regulations of the government as tantamount to stifling the democracy and accountability and said that it was not the work of ministry of interior to oversee affairs of INGOs.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, the mover, asked the government to come out clean on the proposed legislation about the NGOs both national and international.

“The registration of INGOs has recently been transferred from Economic Affairs Division (EAD) to the interior ministry,” he said adding that the decision was based on the report of Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi.

“The government is happy with those NGOs that relieve the state of responsibility to build schools and hospitals but are creating hurdles in the way of those who are advocating for people’s rights,” he said. But it is accommodating some banned outfits to reappear under different names. By reducing the space for the civil society organizations we are rejecting people’s participation.

He said that the idea of placing national CSOs under the control of interior ministry was preposterous. “The LEAs/ state agencies are responsible for most violations of rights by state. Putting the civil society organizations especially those working for human rights, at the mercy of the same forces is wolf guarding the sheep,” Babar said.

He proposed the setting up of a committee that should also include Foreign Office, Economic Affairs Division, members of Parliament and civil society organizations to propose a draft legislation that takes into account all aspects, he said.

Senator Usman Kakar said that the INGOs were being barred to work in less developed areas like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Hafiz Hamdullah supported the regulations of government and said that no NGO could be allowed for spying or to work against the national interest. PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz endorsed Hamdullah.

State Minister for Interior Baleegur Rehman claimed that the federal government was not creating any hurdles for INGOs while local NGOs come under the control of provinces. Giving a figure, he said that 131 INGOs had applied for registration under the new policy and 15 had been given permission while the government had shown reservations on 14. But the government is allowing to work all INGOs till the final decision on each case. “The government has also proposed Foreign Contribution Act that is with the Law Division,” he said and added that the law was aimed at ascertaining funding sources of NGOs.

The house also passed a resolution with the majority votes of opposition that recommend the government to revisit Indus Water Treaty, 1960 in order to make new provisions in the treaty so that Pakistan could get more water for its rivers. The government opposed the resolution.

The mover Senator Karim Ahmed Khawaja said that India had built a number of water reservoirs on the three rivers whose water ownership was with Pakistan under the treaty. Thus the treaty needed to be reviewed and renegotiated. PPP Senator Sherry Rehman and Farhatullh Babar proposed that the water issues should also be included in Composite Dialogue or Comprehensive Dialogue being held with India. Ms Rehman proposed a commission for the solution of water issues of Pakistan.

State Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali opposed the resolution saying, “It is not easy to renegotiate or revisit Indus Water Treaty. He held responsible the Pakistan for not building reservoirs like Kala Bagh Dam and added: “India can build up dams on run of the river.” He said that the government would seek legal opinion over the resolution.

The house also passed a resolution that recommended the government to buy electronic voting machines for Election Commission of Pakistan. PML-N legislator General (retd) Salahuddin Tirmizi said that some members of EU Parliament had opposed the voting machines saying there were flaws in this system.