In November 2007, United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution with consensus. It was decided that September 15 shall be observed as the International Day of Democracy. While in 2014 the theme for celebration was “Engaging Youth on Democracy”, this year’s theme-“Space for Civil Society” is also no less important and relevant. So there is no better day than this to emphasize on the importance of “Space for Civil Society”.

Sadly, under the excuse of current special circumstances of Pakistan today, the breathing space for the civil society has been curtailed to a large extent. The hostile environment for proper functioning of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) has earned Pakistan a bad name and a lot of criticism from local and international audience. INGOs, in particular, have been asked to renew their licenses, explain to the authorities their source(s) of funding and set forward their “agenda”. We’re told foreign spying agencies (we know who) and hidden terrorists may be working under the garb of these INGOs.

This is precisely why humanitarian groups and civil society organizations mainly working for the development sector have been taken aback.

It is very important to regulate the non-governmental sector, while the work on National Action Plan (NAP) is in full swing. Special circumstances may warrant special measures. However, doing this at the expense of ‘Space for Civil Society’ and, at large, squeezing the already depleting space for any dissent with the government amounts to societal detriment.

NGOs are, as it is said, “partners in development”. And if these partners in development succumb to the unwarranted scrutiny and ‘naming and shaming’ policy of the government and choose to give up, NAP implementation may face a major setback. 

Regulating and monitoring the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) without consultation and failing to implement the agreed-upon proposals, after a rigorous and inclusive process, should only disillusion the CSOs.

Concluding the discussion, we must note that democracy is two-way-traffic. Those who govern and those who are governed both ought to play their part. A quotation from the Guidance Note of the Secretary-General (UN) on Democracy comprehensively captures the thought. It states that:

“Democracy needs strong, accountable and transparent institutions of governance, based on the rule of law, and including an accountable executive, an effective legislature and an independent and impartial judiciary, efficient and inclusive public administration, as well as an informed, empowered and politically active civil society and population.”