Pakistan is ordering the ActionAid charity and 17 other international aid agencies to shut down operations and leave the country in Islamabad's latest move against foreign-funded human rights groups, ActionAid said.
The South Africa-based charity, which focuses on education, poverty alleviation, and human rights, said on October 4 that it had received an expulsion notice from Pakistan's Interior Ministry after losing an appeal of an order to leave the country last year.
The group's Pakistan country director, Abdul Khaliq, told Reuters that a ministry official told him Islamabad has also rejected the appeals of 17 other international aid organizations that were also ordered to leave last year and that Pakistan will be expelling them as well.
"Pakistan's decision to shut down ActionAid and other International NGOs is a worrying escalation of recent attacks on civil society, academics, and journalists," ActionAid said in a statement.
"The immediate victims will be the thousands of ordinary Pakistani families who ActionAid has been supporting to claim their rights and build a better life," it said.
ActionAid and the other 17 foreign relief organizations that appealed their expulsion orders were among 27 charities ordered out of the country last year, most of them working on human rights issues.
One of the shutdown orders accused an aid agency of pursuing "an antistate agenda."
Khaliq told Reuters that an Interior Ministry official told him that "we have rejected the appeal of all" 18 groups that appealed their expulsion orders last year.
The letter ordering ActionAid out of the country granted the group an opportunity to "reapply for registration" after six months. The expulsion letter did not offer a reason for forcing the group out of the country.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry did not respond to messages asking about the expulsion orders, and the Information Ministry said it would check on the matter.
Khaliq told Reuters that during an appeal hearing in March, a special committee inquired about details of ActionAid's work in Pakistan, but the organization received no further inquiries from the government after that.
"We empower the poor and marginalized people... Maybe the government does not like that approach... Maybe there is some communication gap between ActionAid work and the government," he said.
The Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, an alliance of international nongovernmental organizations, told AFP that it fears that the appeals of all the charities that were ordered out of the country have been rejected.
Pakistan's campaign against foreign charities operating in the country has been building for years.
In 2015, Pakistan asked all foreign aid and advocacy organizations to reregister with the government to enhance the monitoring of their operations.
That followed an incident in 2012 that fueled suspicion of foreign-aid groups in Pakistan.
In 2012, a Pakistani intelligence report linked the aid group Save the Children to the U.S. CIA's efforts to locate Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, who was killed in his home in Abbottabad in 2011 by U.S. Navy Seals in a secret operation.
Save the Children denied it had any links to the CIA. But the charity's expatriate staff were forced to leave Pakistan after the accusations emerged.
Pakistan, in hardening its policies toward international aid groups, has sometimes accused them of being covers for spying operations and has repeatedly warned them to restrict their activities.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters