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Pakistan Announces Stricter Policy for Foreign Aid Groups

A Pakistani policeman stands guard outside the shuttered office of the international aid group Save the Children in Islamabad on June 15.

All international aid agencies have been told to renew their government registration within 60 days, Pakistan’s interior minister said on October 1. The move comes amid heightened scrutiny of charity workers, whom authorities have accused of breaking various – yet unspecified – laws and highlights the plight of many foreigners working in Pakistan.

Aid workers, as well as diplomats, face heavy restrictions on movement in the nation of 190 million people plagued by poverty and militancy, and many have been accused of espionage.

Under the new policy announced by Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, international NGOs must register online within the next 60 days and would be informed within the next 60 days as to whether they have permission to operate in Pakistan.

Charities can gain approval to work in the country for three years, after which each case would be re-evaluated, and oversight of visas issued to foreign aid workers would be tightened.

"For the past 10 to 14 years, the largest international organizations have been working here without any approval or permission," Khan said.

"There will be no permission to do any kind of work that would affect Pakistan’s economic, security, or national interests."

In June, officials gave Save the Children 15 days to leave the country. Two days later, the order was suspended and the charity shut down.

Save the Children has worked in Pakistan for more than 35 years. In 2011, officials linked it to a Pakistani doctor recruited by the CIA who helped in the manhunt for Osama bin Laden.

The charity has always denied any link to the doctor or the CIA.

According to CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations, Pakistan stripped 3,000 aid groups of their local registration in December 2014.

The draft version of the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 2015 would loosen the requirements for officials to prevent groups receiving foreign funds from operating within Pakistan.

"International NGOs cannot raise funds inside or outside Pakistan without taking the government’s permission first," Khan said. "Local NGOs cannot be supported by international NGOs in any way without government permission. Any illegal activity of any kind will bring about automatic cancellation [of approval]."

With reporting by Asad Hashim for Reuters