Why imran khan must bat for civil society in pakistan the daily tribune kingdom of bahrain

In the past, Mr. Khan had taken various regressive positions — supporting the discriminatory blasphemy laws, attacking liberals, criticizing the press and describing the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan as a legitimate jihad against occupying forces — but he has an opportunity to turn the page and embrace a new, more inclusive vision for the country.

Pakistan features on the lower margins of most international human development indexes. It has the worst infant mortality rate. A child born in Iceland has a one-in-1,000 chance of death at birth, while a child born in Pakistan has a one-in-22 chance, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Twenty-three million Pakistani children are out of school and millions of children enrolled in public and private schools can barely read or write.

Several international nonprofit groups such as Action Aid, Asia Foundation, Mercy Corps and Open Society Foundation have worked in Pakistan for years. Civil society organizations have helped during national crises like floods; promoted education in remote, rural areas; and have worked with minority groups such as Christians and Hindus, who are ignored by the state.

Instead of supporting local and international nongovernmental organizations, the Pakistani establishment has responded with a crackdown on these groups. The previous government and the military initiated proceedings to curtail the work and even eject scores of international civil society groups working in Pakistan. Sections of the establishment and right-wing television networks in Pakistan have been promoting allegations linking international NGOs to espionage and antigovernment activities

Various programs run by these groups have been paralyzed for more than a year because of the uncertainty the government has created about their future. And tens of thousands of Pakistanis who work for nongovernmental organizations face the specter of unemployment. Donors such as Western governments are hesitant to come forth. Pakistani nongovernmental organizations work under extremely difficult conditions, as they don’t have the option of leaving the country nor of effectively challenging clampdowns by the state. Thousands of Pakistani civil society groups, especially the ones working to promote human rights, have been asked to renew their registration and submit answers to highly personal questionnaires. Foreign funding for these organizations has also been suspended.

It is tragic that while Islamabad has pressured and coerced nongovernmental groups, it has opened up greater political and social space for Islamic e x t remist groups and their affiliates. Pakistan’s Election Commission allowed several extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba — a State Department-designated terrorist group, which faces sanctions from the United Nations — to contest the recent general elections while using front organizations.

The military has argued that it is mainstreaming these groups by bringing them into the electoral process. But without any de-radicalization program in place, without a commitment from these groups to disarm their tens of thousands of followers and disavow their extremist ideology and show a commitment to democratic processes, allowing them to contest elections only helps them increase their support base.

F.A.T.F. is concerned about extremist groups being allowed to operate as charities in Pakistan while they are listed as terrorist groups by the United Nations. By October, Pakistan could be moved up to the “black list” of F.A.T.F. that includes North Korea and Iran and would result in international sanctions on Pakistan, unless it changes its behavior.