3rd December 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Federal Information Ministry Fawad Chaudhry caused a controversy when he said the Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore was a foreign-funded event and refused to attend the moot over the address of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom he called an ‘absconder’.
The debate over foreign funding to non-governmental organisations for the development and civic projects is an old one in Pakistan.
The debate has been retriggered by recent attempts to make the work of non-governmental organisations controversial in the country. Recent statements by the European Union and many other international donors at international forums have made it abundantly clear the donor-recipients relationship is no more looked upon with a narrow focus.
In reaction to the attacks on conference organisers by federal ministers of Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan himself , the European External Action Service (EEAS) spokesperson, in a statement from Brussels, said the European Union has been participating in the event since its inception in 2018 and that human rights and the rule of law are essential to the EU’s foreign policy. “Freedom of expression is key for a democratic, pluralistic, and dynamic society.”The EU, together with other foreign missions, has been supporting the Asma Jahangir conference since its inception in 2018 in honour of the legacy of the human rights icon and lawyer,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson further said that conference was a unique platform for the legal community, human rights experts, journalists, students, and the wider public to discuss the challenges related to human rights and the rule of law.
There is emphasis by certain government functionaries in Pakistan to paint international donors driven projects as bad. The reality is that the government itself is heavily dependent on foreign aid to help run projects which it accuses the NGOs of carrying out on aid money in the country.
According to an assessment from the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, close to over 70 bilateral and multilateral donors were managing more than 2,000 project activities in Pakistan in 2018-19.
The European Union provides Pakistan with about €100 million annually in grants for development and cooperation. For the 2014-2020 period, €603 million was earmarked for three key sectors of rural development, rule of law and human rights, and educational and vocational training.
These EU-funded projects are expected to lift 45 million of Pakistan’s poorest out of poverty. More than 4.5 million children and pregnant and lactating women and children are to receive nutrition support for the period 2019-2021.
Another EU project has led to the provision of specific contact points for women in 37 police stations. The EU has also provided funding of €132 million to impart technical and vocational educational training to 225,000 people.
Similarly, Britain’s Department For International Department allocated £325 million in 2018-19 and £325 million in 2019-20 for Pakistan. The DFID projects helped 1.5 million children gain a decent education while close to a million people were provided with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation.
The United Nations and its different entities were supporting 287 projects across the country. According to the UN in Pakistan website, UN entities have allocated $693.5 million for sustainable development goals over the years. Over 40.5 percent of the allocated resources went to the provision of health service and delivery while 21 percent of resources were spent on and food and nutrition programmes in the country.
The above instances point out the fact that the federal and provincial governments are overwhelmingly dependent on international donors for the provision of infrastructure, civic amenities, and services to citizens.
The civil society organisations, locally or internationally funded, have stepped in to fill the void left by the State’s inability to provide essential services such as health, education, shelter, and food security to millions of people in Pakistan. The government’s criticism of international funding for NGOs is unwarranted as it had failed to provide resources itself for improving the living standards of citizens.