Pakistan has seen more than 10-fold increase in the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country since 911. There is now one NGO per 2000 Pakistanis. A large slice of the billions of dollars in American aid to Pakistan has been funneled through these non-government organizations (NGOs). This has been particularly true since the passage of Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill in 2009 that tripled civilian aid to Pakistan from $500 million to $1.5 billion a year. Most of these new NGOs are not likely to survive the planned US aid cuts to Pakistan by the Trump Administration.
Pakistan has been massively NGO-ized since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, according to data compiled by Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP), a certification organization for non-government organizations (NGOs) and charity institutions. The number of NGOs has exploded from 10,000-12,000 in 2001 (source: Aga Khan Civil Society Index) to 100,000-150,000 mostly foreign-funded NGOs in 2016 as estimated by PCP.
Why is there one NGO for every 2,000 Pakistanis? The usual justification for NGOs is that these organizations fill the gaps in services left by the state. An obvious example of such an organization is Edhi Foundation.
Edhi Foundation is widely recognized as a domestically funded legitimate NGO that provides badly needed emergency and other critical services in the remotest corners of Pakistan. Anatol Lieven, author of "Pakistan: A Hard Country" wrote the following about Edhi Foundation:
"There is no sight in Pakistan more moving than to visit some dusty, impoverished small town in an arid wasteland, apparently abandoned by God and all sensible men and certainly abandoned by the Pakistani state and its elected representatives - and to see the flag of Edhi Foundation flying over a concrete shack with a telephone, and the only ambulance in town standing in front. Here, if anywhere in Pakistan, lies the truth of human religion and human morality."
There are many many foreign-funded, mostly US-funded, NGOs whose work is not as visible and their funding and activities lack transparency.
US Aid Boost in Pakistan:
The United States decided to increase civilian aid to Pakistan after the 911 attacks. A big part of this aid was funneled through non-government organizations. This was particularly true after Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill in 2009 that tripled civilian aid to Pakistan from $500 million to $1.5 billion a year.
Why does the United States choose to funnel aid through NGOs? The answer to this question can be found in the following excerpt from a US State Department document:
"We will reach beyond governments to offer a place at the table to groups and citizens willing to shoulder a fair share of the burden. Our efforts to engage beyond the state begin with outreach to civil society--activists, organizations, congregations, journalists who work through peaceful means to make their countries better. While civil society is varied, many groups have common goals with the United States, and working with civil society be effective and efficient path to advance our foreign policy goals". (DoS, 2010, pp 21-22)
The notable part of this statement is that the NGOs represent an "effective and efficient path to advance our foreign policy goals". These US goals are not necessarily the same as the interests of the countries where these NGOs operate.
Tools of Imperialism?
In "Confessions of an Economic Hitman", author John Perkins has detailed his own experience as an EHM (economic hit man) to control and exploit resources of developing nations for the benefit of major US corporations. Perkins says EHMs like him persuade leaders of target countries to hire their firms to do the projects at highly inflated costs which are financed by the World Bank, USAID and regional development banks. The borrowed money and the natural resources extracted flow to the coffers of US corporations while the developing countries are left under heavy debt. The leaders who refuse to cooperate with EHMs are overthrown or assassinated by "Jackals" (Perkins term for CIA agents). If the jackals fail, the US military invades the countries in defiance to bring them to heel.
Many believe that proliferating western-funded NGOs are the latest tools in America's toolbox described by John Perkins in his book. NGOs are seen as a cheaper alternative to military invasions to achieve desired outcomes in developing countries.
In 2011, the US CIA used a Pakistani doctor working with Save the Children NGO to conduct a fake vaccination campaign in KP in search of Usama Bin Laden's whereabouts. This revelation caused a major setback to Pakistan's efforts to eradicate polio and harmed many children who went unvaccinated.
Professionalization of NGOs:
Well funded NGOs are capitalizing and professionalizing activism. Instead of organizing the masses at the grass-roots level to fight for their interests, NGOs are being accused of using them for their own benefit.
American activist Stephanie McMillan from South Florida describes the process of modern NGO creation in the following words:
"For those of us involved in organizing, there is an eerily familiar pattern: Some atrocity happens, outraged people pour into the streets, and once together, someone announces a meeting to follow up and continue the struggle. At this meeting, several experienced organizers seem to be in charge. These activists open with radical language and offer to provide training and a regular meeting space. They seem to already have a plan figured out, whereas everyone else has barely had time to think about the next step. The activists exude competence, explaining—with diagrams—how to map out potential allies, as they craft a list of specific politicians (or others) to target with protests."
The lion's share of NGO funding is likely to dry up with the Trump Administration's decision to significantly cut aid to Pakistan. It is likely that many NGOs, particularly those reliant on US funds, will not survive. This will cause a major shake-out in Pakistan's NGO industry. Some of the money will likely still be pumped into the country by the CIA but it is unlikely to make up for the lost aid money.
This will not affect legitimate NGOs like Edhi Foundation which is almost entirely funded by donations in Pakistan by Pakistanis.
Pakistan has seen more than 10-fold increase in the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country since 911. There is now one NGO per 2000 Pakistanis. A large slice of billions of dollars in US aid has been funneled through non-government organizations. This was particularly true after Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill in 2009 that tripled civilian aid to Pakistan from $500 million to $1.5 billion a year. Most of these new NGOs are not likely to survive the planned US aid cuts to Pakistan by the Trump Administration.