Weak government control and lack of effective institutional environment
The lack of institutional performance and governmental authority can acerbate the mistrust in NGOs and thus negatively affect their ability to enter cooperative partnerships with the military. One military participant explained how the regulative and institutional framework relates to civil-military relations:
Since government control is weak, law is not there, many people are doing unlawful things. For example, if some civil society organisation says that I am doing work for education, we are not going to trust it. We do not know whether they are telling the truth or have a hidden agenda.
(Interview Participant #27, Senior Military Representative)
The lack of effective monitoring and a system of formal regulations to assess the background and potential impact of non-governmental actors seemed to have favoured the generation of suspicion and mistrust from both the military and society. Some common monitoring procedures, such as surveillance and unannounced office visits, seem to be implemented by intelligence agencies, but they are not formally institutionalised and are applied heterogeneously, with many organisations in the analysed sample perceiving to be permanently exposed to the risk of crackdown, harassment or closure. Most analysed organisations were of the opinion that these practices would be more effective if they were implemented by civilian agencies and the results of such audits as well as potential consequences would be clearly and formally communicated. In addition, the respondents considered that the military should not be in charge of assessing permission for NGOs to operate, due to their lack of training in exercising such types of roles: “They are trained for something else, e.g. killing, shooting, et cetera”, said one respondent (Interview Participant #4, Senior NGO Representative). Intelligence agencies’ queries, surveillance or monitoring practices can have intimidating effects on civil society actors. Arrests or enforced disappearance represent another procedure that the military was argued to apply as deterrence or intimidation tactic against the actors attempting to hold them accountable, make a “radical statement against the military” or engage in an action that would considerably jeopardise the military’s position (Interview Participant #34, Senior NGO Representative), as one respondent related:
[Tjhere have been cases in which internet bloggers have been picked up, because of blasphemy, there have been cases in which corrupt politicians have been picked up because they were corrupt. There have been cases in which land mafia has been picked up. The pretext they will use is national security and security operations.
(Interview Participant #34, Senior NGO Representative)
These intimidating practices can have a discouraging effect on CSOs as they can result in the cancellation of projects, for example, projects about security and human rights in Balochistan.
Procedural and institutional incertitude can vary depending on the policy sector, type of conflict on which organisations are working or the level of operation, i.e. policy or grassroots level. The projects advocating rights or institutional change implemented by grassroots organisations were found to be particularly prone to closer scrutiny and monitoring and can be theoretically stopped at any time. “ISI is stopping projects, e.g. it stopped a project called The Right for Peace and Development. It was for the development of this locality, but ISI did not permit”, affirms one participant (Interview Participant #3, Senior NGO Representative). “[W]e are happy to answer questions and share information, but there is no system in place” (Interview Participant #4, Senior NGO Representative) for CSO operations or CSO-military interoperability, claimed one respondent, highlighting the government’s failure to provide an efficient and transparent framework. Transparency can be ensured by a better communication strategy and increased diplomacy: “More diplomacy is needed. There is a communication problem. The state should communicate why it closes CSOs, why NOC is required, is it a counterterrorism measure? Say it!”, stated another respondent (Interview Participant #16, Senior NGO Representative).
For non-governmental actors to become effective, the government needs to create an effective and sustainable environment. There is currently no formal civilian monitoring mechanism in place to assess the activity of the non-governmental and non-profit sector on policy and society in Pakistan. The civil society sector which encompasses CSOs, madrassas, think tanks, foundations and other non-governmental, non-profit organisations is operating under the 1860 Societies Act, which is considered to have obsolete provisions. New regulations introduced in connection with the country’s counterterrorism strategy in 2015 made it more difficult for NGOs, both domestic and international, to operate, in particular in conflict, sensitive or otherwise restricted areas.
Another aspect highlighting the poorly coordinated regulatory framework in which NGOs work is related to the NOC. As per the latest regulations at the time of this analysis, all non-profit organisations, both domestic and international, aiming to implement projects in the areas defined as ‘restricted’ or ‘prohibited’ by the Ministry of Interior had to apply for permission at provincial disaster management agencies and the Ministry of Interior. Access to areas that are under military control, e.g. FATA, or ‘restricted’ or ‘prohibited’ areas (Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs 2011), is particularly limited to CSOs. The procedure of obtaining a NOC is found to be as follows: civilian disaster management institutions and the Ministry of Interior are mainly involved in the process of issuing NOCs, while the intelligence record and clearance by intelligence agencies are also a part of the procedure. One shortcoming is that the lack of a transparent procedure and criteria for the allocation of the NOC can open space for errors and abuses. The institutional responsibilities, implementation procedures and coordination between the military and civilian institutions are largely unclear.
Technically, it is supposed to go through the ministries, but eventually it comes from the local military camps based in the area. (...) When the military is on the front, everything is under their control. For example, if you want to work with I DPs in Bannu, you need to contact military offices there, is not under civilian government.
(Interview Participant #38, Senior NGO Representative)
The possession of NOC seemed to increase the likelihood of getting support from the armed forces operating on the ground, in terms of security or implementation assistance. But a further source of incertitude relates to the terms and conditions of cancellation of the NOC. It is found that the NOC can be cancelled at any time (Interview Participants #4 and #18, Senior NGO Representatives), with a higher probability of cancellation for operations in conflict-affected areas: “Access to FATA is restricted, NOC has been revoked for 50% of CSOs” (Interview Participant #41, Senior NGO Representative) operating there. This can constitute a source of demotivation for organisations planning to operate in areas or domains for which an NOC is required.
The conclusion that can be drawn from these data is that institutional gaps are likely to obstruct reforms and transparency in relation to the procedures involved in the assessment methods for non-state actors’ operations. While security measures have been heightened after the Taliban attack on the Peshawar school in 2014, the military’s firm involvement in NOC procedures and monitoring is perceived as deterring and intimidating by most organisations. While the organisations acknowledged the need for elevated security to stabilise Pakistan and prevent terrorist attacks, the closure of many of them or revocation of NOC was perceived to be somewhat exaggerated. The revocation of NOC was often related to the military’s mistrust in funding from external actors. This was sometimes perceived as a double-standard, given that in many instances the military itself has been a recipient of external funding, military technology or training from international actors.
Political parties and leadership were found to be important factors related to the level of institutional capacity and processes of institutional reform. I now move on to discuss these aspects in detail.