Pakistan is following the path first pioneered by Russia in cracking down against hostile International NGOs that pose a threat to national security.
Pakistan took a page from the Russian playbook last week by ordering 18 International NGOs (INGOs) to discontinue their operations within 60 days on the presumed basis that their activities are endangering national security. To those who are unaware of how Hybrid Wars are waged, it might be confusing why the country regards some humanitarian aid groups as a threat, but the fact of the matter is that INGOs often operate as the tip of the spear for foreign intelligence agencies. This isn’t a paranoid claim either, since the US itself has very strict measures in place for defending its own sovereignty from these forces, though it’ll probably hypocritically ignore this “politically inconvenient” reality in order to step up its weaponized infowar against Pakistan as punishment for its protection of domestic interests.
Scores of INGOs flooded into the country after the turn of the century, with many of them taking advantage of the natural disasters of 2005 and 2010 to enter Pakistan without rousing the authorities’ suspicions. While the majority of INGOs are apolitical organizations that are sincerely focused on improving the living standards of many Pakistanis, there are nevertheless some of them which actually operate as fronts for foreign intelligence agencies even if some of their own employees are unaware of this. Once inside the country, these groups recruited sources (some of whom might not even know that they’re being used by a foreign intelligence agency operating under a humanitarian guise) and influenced the electoral process from the grassroots to the national levels.
This saw them illegally collect data on Pakistani citizens and fabricate opinion surveys in order to manipulate the perception of the populace for their predetermined ends, which generally have to do with simply sowing the seeds of strife among the masses, especially in strategic regions such as near the Afghan border and in Balochistan. Sometimes they’d also send their employees to surveil sensitive sites and installations with the cover story being that they were just coincidentally in the area to carry out their humanitarian work. In parallel with this, some INGOs also opened up branch offices in other parts of the country without informing the government and following the proper legal processes for this, thereby spreading their clandestine networks even deeper into Pakistan.
Responsible civil society members, local law enforcement, and the national authorities cooperated in uncovering these Hybrid War plots, tracing their foreign connections, and shutting down these cells after last week’s dramatic announcement that proved that Pakistan is serious about safeguarding its sovereignty from next generation threats. This also indicates that the state has devised a system to identify these groups, assess whether or not they’re a threat, and then register or remove them in order to ensure national security, which speaks to the solid progress that’s been made over the years in learning about these dangers and proactively taking steps to deal with them. Pakistan can’t be too careful either because it’s already one of the main targets of foreign intelligence agencies.
It’s well known that the CIA and its private military contractor (PMC) proxies such as the former Blackwater used to treat Pakistan as a regional playground, and Indian RAW agent Kalbushan Jadhav’s capture two and a half years ago provided Islamabad with enough proof of New Delhi’s covert involvement in supporting terrorism within the country that it even shared its findings with the UN. Both foreign intelligence agencies and others dispatch operatives to Pakistan under civilian cover and sometimes as employees of humanitarian organizations such as the 18 that were just asked to discontinue their activities in the country, so it makes sense for the state to keep tabs on their activities to make sure that they’re not engaged in anything illegal.
It should be reminded, however, that Pakistan isn’t indefinitely banning the said 18 INGOs from ever operating inside the country again but is giving them the opportunity to reapply for registration after 6 months. This is a wise move because it shows that the state isn’t overreacting to these threats and recognizes that the said organizations do indeed partake in very useful activities whenever they remain true to their mandate, so it’s basically giving them half a year to replace their Hybrid War operatives with genuine civilians if they want to return to the country and continue helping people. Since these networks have already been exposed by the security services, there’s no danger in allowing these groups 60 days to wrap up their actual humanitarian operations there.
In the meantime, “Naya Pakistan” would do well to think deeply about how it could indigenize humanitarian aid operations and remove the prior dependency that the state had on INGOs for helping its own people. Well-thought-out policies that emphasize self-empowerment and national solidarity with one’s compatriots will in turn encourage national empowerment and the sustainable strengthening of Pakistan’s sovereignty. The exposure of these 18 Hybrid War INGO cells is testament to the fact that all levels of society are capable of working with one another to thwart next generation foreign threats, but now the next step has to be to fill in the gaps that hostile intelligence agencies exploited in the first place in order to make sure that something like this never happens again.