IT is a move that smells uncomfortably of paranoia of the sort Pakistan is wont to suffer from. But if the raison d’être of a state and government is even remotely understood as catering to the needs of the population, it amounts to cutting off the nose to spite the face. When it was found that Dr Shakil Afridi used a vaccination campaign to mask his efforts in locating Osama bin Laden, the interior ministry reacted by ordering the expulsion of foreign workers of Save the Children. Now, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has issued a new, cumbersome set of guidelines and restrictions. Henceforth, workers of international and local NGOs wishing to undertake humanitarian relief work in certain areas must apply to the provincial home and tribal affairs department for permission at least six to eight weeks in advance, for scrutiny by the 11th Corps and other state agencies. Foreign workers are required to submit details such as their religion, residential address and contact numbers in their own countries, while Pakistanis must submit their CNICs.
A clue as to why this is so can be found in the realities that prevail across the districts where the restrictions apply. These include Buner, Swat and Malakand — areas where suspected militants and security forces have a considerable presence. By implication, given the government and military thinking post-Bin Laden, every aid worker might be indulging in espionage. But UN agencies, working for ordinary citizens in the country, have expressed serious reservations, and rightly so. These new requirements are likely to have an adverse effect on humanitarian work being undertaken by international organisations and their local partners, curtailing activities and impacting the amount of funds received. The irony is that in these areas that the state calls “sensitive”, the people remain desperately in need of help and rehabilitation which the government is either unable or unwilling to provide — and thus the presence of non-state “helpers”. In the interests of the citizenry on whose behalf the state is resisting the militants, these restrictions must be softened and rationalised if not removed altogether. NGO support is needed where the government has failed.