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A research study "Defining National Interest in Human Development" authored by Dr Qais Aslam and Peter Jacob, assessing the impact of Pakistan's INGOs/NGOs regulation Policy in the Economic, Developmental and Relational Markers was launched at the auspices of Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and Pakistan Human Rights Defenders Network (PHRDN). The speakers dilated upon the co-relation between the rights organisations and the economic and human wellbeing of the country.

Noted economist Dr Qais Aslam, co-author of the research study said the study incorporating the legal and technical analysis of policy, analysis of socio-political context, economic fallout, and the way forward; identifies that the stringent regulation policy for INGOs will gravely affect international relations, dissuade international community (donors & civil society) from providing support to human development, and increase unemployment, while the foreign investments will become tougher in the face of lack of protection for civil liberties. He observed that the country's profile on the social, health, education, human rights and environmental indicators as well as ease to do business are among the lowest in the world and Pakistan falls at 41 in GDP growth in the world. The country needs serious educational, civil services, structural and legal reforms for a rapid growth and to safeguard the rights of its people.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice stated that a prosperous and truly sustainable economy is dependent on the quality of civil liberties available in any country therefore Pakistanis' human development and national interest is interlinked. Now that the INGOs/NGOs policy has been tested for four years, a review of the regulation policy was necessary.

He said that incumbent government had added responsibility to clarifying misconceptions about NGOs in order to create an enabling civic environment as well as improve image of the country. He urged the government to make efforts to increase democratic space for civil society, and honour the UN Human Rights Council's resolution passed on 21 March 2013 that affirms the right of human rights defenders to access funding from foreign countries and ensure that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding.

Coordinator of the Pakistan Human Rights Defenders, Tanveer Jahan stated that restrictions on organizations and their funding can be imposed, however conscience of human rights defenders would always motivate them to speak out against injustice or discrimination. Despite obstacles, social movements would continue advocating for protection of rights of citizens as well as human rights defenders.

A human rights defender, Bushra Khaliq said that a vibrant civil society plays crucial role in institutionalization of good governance and inclusive democracy. It is sad that civil space is shrinking in Pakistan for those who are meant to peacefully stand up for protection of citizen's interests and rights.

She said that the arbitrary actions against civil society is an infringement of their fundamental freedoms and rights, and having regulation policy despite regulation laws for NGOs is unjustified, and delaying application for renewal of registration of NGOs by authorities is in violation of the existing laws. She further added that the situation of human rights defenders needed government's urgent attention in the wake of threats, intimidation, harassment and violence to stop their legitimate work.

Professor of economics, Dr Ghulam Saghir said that while Pakistan's remittances have declined and external debt increased and the government is also struggling to cope with economic challenges. The Government is keen to promote tourism and attract foreign investment, which is why the government should show that at least foreign assistance by donors can find accommodation.

He further said the said regulation policy had repercussions for the economic wellbeing of the people of Pakistan, and it would affect the Pakistan's image globally. The economic fall out of the regulation policy for INGOs/NGOs is bound to impact the social sector development.

Renowned human rights defender, Mohammad Tehseen said the policy for NGOs had affected more than 34 million Pakistanis who were being served with humanitarian and development assistance, while that policy had contributed to unemployment and intimidation among Pakistanis associated with social development sector. NGOs faced surveillance, interrogation, detention, and restrictions on their lawful initiatives, as well as allegations of being involved in dubious or anti-state activities, however the honourable courts cleared charges levelled against NGOs by government authorities for lack of substance and legal grounds. He said the interference by state apparatus against organizations without taking in confidence NGOs, INGOs and parliament, yet civil society is struggling on account of shrinking civic space and stringent regulations imposed on civil society including; media, NGOs & INGOs.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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