The mullahs are once again at odd with Civil Society Organizations and NGOs in Pakistan. Recently in Kohistan, the clergies have repeatedly threatened the NGOs to wrap up their activities or face dire consequences.
Two theories are predominant in Pakistan vis-à-vis civil society organizations and human right organizations. One theory is of religious clergies whereby they observe a strong Jewish conspiracy behind the functioning of NGOs and CSOs to corrupt Muslim societies. Another theory is postulated by eminent economist and development practitioners who are of opine that “The failure of government policies in reducing poverty paved the way for emergence of NGOs. The basic purpose of these NGOs was to act as a catalyst between government and communities, keeping their separate identity and less intervention from government. The state institutions and its public policy were unable to tackle core public issues, so a new, participatory, and democratic institution with new paradigm was necessity of time”. (S. Akbar Zaidi, ‘Issues in Pakistan’s Economy’ OUP, 1999. pp# 413-16).
But it seems obvious now that our hostile attitude towards CSOs and NGOs are shaped by clergical thoughts.
Edict against NGOs is not a recent phenomenon in Pakistan’s rural areas. It has been practiced like faith to mislead people against NGOs by religious clergies. Renowned development practitioner and founding General Manager of Aga Khan Rural Support Program, Mr. Shoaib_Sultan_Khan in his book Aga Khan Rural Support Programme A Journey Through Grassroots Development narrates that how a development program like Aga Khan Rural Support Programme was propagated to be a sectarian program by religious ulemas and asked people to ban the program as it was sponsored by His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili community and thus a conspiracy to create an ‘Ismaili State’ in Gilgit Baltistan. Due to such strong religious propaganda AKRSP was not able to initiate any developmental program in Chilas – one of seven districts headquarters of Gilgit Baltistan. A man of international repute and a recipient of Magsaysay Award, he observes in his book that in Chilas the ““ulema issuing fatwas (against AKRSP) were not from Chilas but from Kohistan and KPK” (P#191). Shoaib Sultan states that the fatwas were so obnoxious that “in some places, they remained unconvinced and despite my being a born Sunni felt that I had sold my soul.” (Page #191). Khan further states, “Once I took Akhter Hameed Khan to a diehard religious area and he asked the people that if they did not take advantage of the modern education and technology AKRSP is offering to them, they would be left far behind like the Mughals were left far behind the foreigners but they did not budge”.(P#191)
Civil Society Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations play a vital role in providing jobs and mobilizing the communities. Their importance cannot be denied in mobilizing communities and building their capacities by adopting the ‘Participatory Development Approach.’ According to a report of Pakistan Centre of Philanthropy more than 100000 CSO and NGOs are working in Pakistan. Many Pakistani models of community development have received world recognition which includes Adult Basic Literacy Education initiated by Vincent David, Leprosy Reduction Initiative of Dr Ruth Pfau, Orangi_Pilot_Project of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, AKRSP model of Shoaib Sultan Khan, Akhuwat Model of Amjad Saqib and Sindh_Institute_of_Urology_and_Transplantation program of Dr. Adeeb-ul Hasan Rizvi.
But, unfortunately, in Pakistan governments perceive NGOs their competitors and clergies consider them as a great conspiracy of west to sabotage the Islamic culture in Pakistan. For this very basic reason, many representatives of humanitarian agencies have been recently kidnapped and killed in Pakistan. The killing of Farida-Afridi and abduction of other foreign aid workers in Pakistan is a sign of drifting more towards obscurantist paths.
Civil Society Organizations and NGOs must not be considered competitors by government or a conspiracy hatched by Jews or other unforeseen forces by Pakistani people. They serve the people devoid of basic necessities of life in times of crisis and play a vital role in their own capacities to enhance the living conditions of rural and urban population.
The tattered economy of Pakistan cannot sustain and deliver in its current capacity. In such conditions, how Pakistan allows multiple ideas to be flourished and multiple actors to work will shape the future of the country.
Pakistan needs lot to do for building public-private partnership and to provide security to the people working with grass-root communities. In a society where hope for the future often becomes hope for survival, killing sane voices like Farida Afridi and other human right activists, social activists and community workers is a sign of medival thoughts and banning and opposing NGOs is a sheer stupidity depicting our prejudices against development, knowledge and civilization.