Local actors’ perceived impact on peace and security
The impact of NGOs on advancing progressive reforms of peace and security was perceived as significantly less positive than most of the international literature suggests. A common view among the study participants (representatives of academia, government, media and military) was that the NGOs’ impact on peace and security in Pakistan is rather mixed, as depicted in Figure 7.1.
More than 80% of the respondents, i.e. military, academia, government and media representatives, evaluated the impact of NGOs as mixed (sometimes positive, sometimes negative) or weak. It is also interesting that the military and other respondents had very similar perceptions, with the military being marginally more positive and none of the non-military respondents characterising NGO work as ‘mainly positive’. There was a generalised perception that local actors often lack a demand-driven approach and work in a superficial manner, predominantly on issues that would not jeopardise their projects, personnel or funding. The respondents expected NGOs to perform with higher levels of commitment, dedication or creativity. This finding can be exemplified by several excerpts from the empirical interviews:
• ‘The perception is that these [NGOs] are created to consume funding, not do serious work’ (Interview Participant #39, Senior NGO Representative).
Figure 7.1 Non-Governmental Actors’ Perceived Impact on Peace and Security.1
- • ‘CSOs should identity substantive, not cosmetic areas (...). If bilateralism in Kashmir issue failed, explore trilateralism (...) if Kashmir has failed, look at water issues, Siachen’ (Interview Participant #7, Senior Academia Representative).
- • ‘Some of them are doing an excellent job, but some support extremists or radicals and this phenomenon is not in isolation (...). There is an international support, a regional support for this’ (Interview Participant #15, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘For me it seems that civil society, specifically CSOs are not even interested to play such roles. And they are scared. I have seen so many NGOs, but whenever is an area like FATA and KPK where you need to apply for the NOC (...) most of the CSOs are not even interested to implement projects there. Because they know that if they apply for NOC there will be investigations and God knows’ (Interview Participant #40, Senior Media Representative).
- • ‘A large number of CSOs, large number, the majority, are essentially interested in getting money from somewhere, finding a place for them to sit. A building, a car and that becomes their way of living. That is their means of living’ (Interview Participant #46, Senior Military Representative).
First, some of the respondents seem to suggest that there is a generalised opinion that many civil society organisations (CSOs)/NGOs are more interested in getting funding than in having a positive impact. For example, they are criticised for not engaging in key substantive areas, which could enable political progress, or for not looking into alternative approaches and channels to overcome blockades, e.g. in relation to the India-Pakistan dispute. Some local actors were perceived to promote terrorism and radi- calisation, with regional or international support, e.g. from India or Saudi Arabia. In an attempt to enhance control of the INGOs’ impact, the Government of Pakistan adopted the notification No. 6/34/2015-PE-III in October 2015, which updated its policy for regulation of NGOs/INGOs in Pakistan. While the government claimed that it “acknowledges the diverse contributions of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) in the socio-economic development of Pakistan, through means such as awareness-raising, social-mobilization, infrastructure-development, service delivery, training, research and advocacy” and recognises the “need for collaboration with the INGOs by the Government as well as by the private sector”, it sets out strict rules to enhance monitoring, scrutiny and transparency of the funding and impact of INGOs (Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Interior 2015). Thus, all INGOs need to register online via the website of the Ministry of Interior, which publishes the list of approved INGOs. Most recently, international governments and organisations, including the EU, have expressed concern over the closure of 18 INGOs in late 2018 over their alleged failure to comply with the registration process (Ahmed 2018).
INGOs that fail to receive approval for operating in Pakistan can reapply after six months. In general, the reports in the media about NGOs’ impact and the alleged link of the INGO Save the Children to the killing of Osama bin Laden have enhanced the generalised negative perception towards internationally funded associations.
Second, an interesting result is the perception by several respondents (from the academia, media, military and a few NGO representatives) that NGOs purposely avoid conducting difficult operations, e.g. in Pakistan’s conflict zones that require special permission in the form of NOC from the Ministry of Interior. NGOs were believed to intentionally avoid operating in sensitive areas such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA or Balochistan (Interview Participant #40, Senior Media Representative), in order to minimise bureaucratic efforts and the hazard of exposing themselves to the risk of coming under the surveillance of intelligence institutions. This would equate with the assumption often made in the specialist literature that NGOs behave as rational actors on the ‘market’ and are hesitant to enter less “profitable markets” or conduct “unprofitable services” (Eikenberry and Kluver 2004: 135). High security risks, rejection from conservative communities, as well as institutional barriers, such as the NOC, would be expected to make activities in highly sensitive areas such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan rather unattractive, and prevent internationally funded organisations from conducting projects in these regions. However, the findings of this research show that this is not necessarily the case, as Figure 7.2 suggests.
Over half of the organisations in the analysed sample conduct operations in areas of high risk, with conservative societies and which require an operational NOC, such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan. One possible explanation for this rather surprising finding is the availability of funds for projects in those instable areas. Lower contract competition and funding availability might explain NGOs’ choice for these regions. But the
Figure 7.2 Distribution of Non-Governmental Organisations’ Area of Operation.2
risk associated with projects in these areas is nonetheless likely to exceed the benefits. Thus, the argument in the literature around the marketisation of NGOs can be only partially confirmed. While local actors do apply strategies and principles of the market economy, these are rather aimed at project stability and to a lesser extent to profit-maximisation. Thus, the results in Figure 7.2 contrast the perception that NGOs purposely opt for conducting less difficult operations.
Third, the findings suggest that a major source of distrust in the NGOs’ work is their impact. Many respondents are of the opinion that internationally funded actors have little substantive impact and the organisations themselves are believed to be responsible for this failure:
- • ‘[N]o major tangible outcomes (...). They can influence political processes, but when it comes to conflict...it depends on the topic. (...) NGOs can change narrative, but cannot relax visa. They cannot resolve the water issue, things that are at the level of government. They can only lobby, advocate’ (Interview Participant #23, Senior Academia Representative).
- • ‘[A]s far as the peace issues are concerned, or counterterrorism, the main player is the military, not civil government. How much the civil society have influenced them? Very little’ (Interview Participant #32, Senior Media Representative).
- • ‘The civil society’s impact on collaboration with the government in policy, in defining the problem, in finding a solution and in raising the problem at institutional level (...), I think the role of civil society is marginally’ (Interview Participant #37, Senior Academia Representative).
- • ‘In many cases, these local CSOs have been funded by the UN system and others like USAID and others (...). Their impact has been significant but not extensive. (...) Because CSOs impact is genuinely limited. (...) In times of natural or other disasters, the societies fill the gap that is always there because of underperforming state machinery. (...) CSOs and their response can always be [only] temporarily’ (Interview Participant #19, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘For the last 15 years, billions of dollars have been invested in Pakistan and there is zero impact’ (Interview Participant #40, Senior Media Representative).
- • ‘[IJnitial excitement about CSOs is reducing, (...) people are becoming suspicious, because they have agendas’ (Interview Participant #8, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘[T]he impact of civil society in Pakistan has not been very strong’ (Interview Participant #21, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘1am not blaming the military (...), because we have a lot of weaknesses in our structure. We have not created that impact, to show that we are a civil society’ (Interview Participant #4, Senior NGO Representative).
- • ‘[When it comes to] democratisation processes (...), they are coming to big hotels and inviting a few people and conducting workshops and get this checked, activity done! But there is no big impact. (...) NGO impact on counterterrorism, conflict resolution, peacebuilding is minimal, minor. (...) Many CSOs work for money’ (Interview Participant #30, Senior NGO Representative).
- • ‘The impact is limited because is not linked to real concerns. They work just for reputation. For example their activities are held in five- star hotels (Paraphrased)’ (Interview Participant #48, Senior Military Representative).
But Pakistan is a transitional state, and NGOs are in the phase of finding their feet, just like the larger society and state institutions. The emergence of the NGO sector as a ‘player’ in the public decision-making is quite new in Pakistan, and their existence was first felt after the 9/11 surge in US-funded development programmes and through the intensification of EU-Pakistan strategic partnership after 2007. Civil society actors’ weak capacity is inextricably linked to their short history and experience, as several respondents explained:
- • ‘NGO impact is fragile, is not well established, because they have a long way to go (...) as far as the practical approach is concerned, the results are not coming’ (Interview Participant #29, Senior Academia Representative).
- • ‘There is increased NGO impact post-Musharraf; (...) civil society became more aware about its rights and media and courts. They have the courage to highlight or demonstrate the negativity of the armed forces’ power’ (Interview Participant #37, Senior Academia Representative).
- • ‘[The role of non-governmental organisations in Pakistan] is limited, because Pakistan is in transition’ (Interview Participant #8, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘[C]ivil society is still in the process of finding its feet (...). It has continued to develop and strengthen itself (...) in the last 10-15 years (...). Civil society is making its presence felt, especially on issues related to humanitarian issues, to the gender and certain aspects which impact poverty issues’ (Interview Participant #21, Senior Military Representative).
Non-state actors, most particularly (policy research) think tanks, as actors assisting in the process of security governance and decision-making “is a quite new phenomenon” in Pakistan, related one expert (Interview Participant #35, Senior NGO Representative). Building capacity and creating a framework in which local actors can provide “mature input” (Interview Participant #37, Senior Academia Representative) and have a positive impact in terms of conflict transformation, management and resolution will require some time. While there are many intellectuals and specialists in Pakistan, intellectual capital is currently in the process of transformation (Interview Participant #35, Senior NGO Representative).
Fourth, another significant finding in relations to non-state actors’ impact on democratic reforms in the security domain is the association made by several respondents between their impact and the foreign sources offunding. Foreign sources of funding were associated with reliance on Western paradigms and schools of thought. This was found to represent a source of opposition towards NGOs. Reliance on the Western knowledge of conflict and peace studies is often preventing positive effects on the ground, believes one respondent: “Until that material is not published and disseminated in local language, it will not have an impact” (Interview Participant #29, Senior Academia Representative). “[Borrowing the foreign or European perspective, terminology” can generate friction between the ‘imported’ values and local contexts: it might be difficult “for the security institutions to conceive their own problems in this framework” (Interview Participant #35, Senior NGO Representative). In particular at Track 3 level, specific knowledge and expertise are required to work on the different categories of conflicts in Pakistan, i.e. sectarian, ethnic, religious or inter-state.
Friction “between the exporters and importers” of integrated peace approaches was anticipated to occur in transitional and fragile societies (Goodhand 2013: 288; see also Millar et al. 2013). The results show that the processes of friction between civilian groups and the military on one side and between NGOs and government and society on the other side can take the form of disagreement. This can impede cooperation and even dialogue. Disagreement and friction can be reduced during the processes of hybrid interaction. If disagreements are not addressed, they can become a source of resentments and conflict. The resentments towards NGOs are related to the normative foundations of their operative framework, considered to be based on (Western-propagated) liberal and secular values. It can easily lead to sweeping generalisations about their scope and impact. These are often misrepresented in the media, particularly Urdu media, and transmitted as such to local communities. Particularly foreign-funded organisations, which aim at changing social norms and values, are often met with reluctance by both the military and local communities.
There are several organisations, for which people have reservations, that whatever they are doing, they are not really contributing to the betterment of the people. Because they are spreading Western culture. They are spreading some alien culture which perhaps does not belong to this area. (...) Things may be very important for them and they may think that this is something which should be followed by every society. But that might not be welcomed here.
(Interview Participant #44, Senior Military Representative)
Local organisations’ work and impact are often perceived as interferences by Western policy makers, with unknown and possibly exploitive objectives vis-a-vis Pakistan, and detrimental to its social values (Interview Participant
#8, Senior Military Representative). Misperceptions about their role and impact can become an impediment for such associations to establish a positive and constructive dialogue with the military, government and society.
Working in cooperation with NGOs and INGOs was found to have a genuinely negative connotation, “people consider that every NGO is linked to some sort of foreign funding” (Interview Participant #39, Senior NGO Representative). This can tremendously reduce trust in the intentions and mandate of non-state organisations, making it more difficult for them to develop dialogue and collaborative frameworks. Many respondents were of the opinion that, for example, education and counter-radicalisation work, particularly at a grassroots level, would be more effective if they relied on Islamic thoughts, e.g. based on Prophet Mohammed’s condemnation of violence with reference to concrete verses from the Koran. In addition, institutional support from the military and/or civilian government, particularly in sensitive domains such as child-marriage, domestic violence and blasphemy, might reduce opposition towards organisations operating in these domains. Non-ideological areas of operations, such as development and health, were found to be more likely to be supported by both communities, military and state institutions, although there have been cases in which organisations operating in these domains at Track 3 level have also been stopped.
Fifth, both the military and society at large seemed to be of the opinion that local actors have greater potential to deliver tangible results in policy areas related to development, aid and healthcare, because these are perceived to be the most stringent needs of Pakistan at the moment (apart from security issues):
- • ‘[M]any religious parties (...) are carrying out relief efforts and capacity building at grassroots. They are more effective than these CSOs. (...) This is why there is support for JuD and Jel3 so far. (...) CSOs have greater potential at grassroots mobilisation than at elite level’ (Interview Participant #23, Senior Academia Representative).
- • ‘[T]hey have not solved core issues, e.g. educate poor children, health, corruption, (...) topics which are priority and allow tangible results; in good governance you cannot see results’ (Interview Participant #8, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘After [the] military cleared FATA, KP and tribal areas, CSO performed some functions which would traditionally be performed by the state. (...) CSOs have provided those communities with basic services, like health, food, education, some local employment training skills’ (Interview Participant #19, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘All these CSOs, which are local, provincial, national or federal, could be injected new blood and asked to assist. So many people are displaced and need to be rehabilitated. The sooner they get there, the better it will be for all of us. Then comes the problem of educating them, [providing] health, facilities which are not existing. Basic facilities like roads and streets’ (Interview Participant #20, Senior Military Representative).
- • ‘There are some books which are against Christians and Hinduism, I would like that kind of hate material to be abolished from our books. Why not working on this? It looks like a range of activities are funding-dependent, CSOs will work on the area where are funds, which might not be the list of priorities’ (Interview Participant #25, Senior NGO Representative).
Operations on advocacy and transformation in the detriment of basic needs are perceived as unjustifiable to many representatives at a community, government or military level. Organisations conducting activities in the areas of development, such as healthcare and education or other basic needs sectors, can be more likely to get the support and even assistance from the military, including in areas such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, tribal areas and Balochistan (Interview Participants #26, Senior NGO Representative; #33 and #44, Senior Military Representatives), which appear to be hardly accessible to organisations operating in domains such as human rights or advocacy.
In sum, non-state actors are perceived to generally have a rather mixed impact on advancing peace and security, but this result is balanced by the findings related to local actors’ role in strengthening input and output legitimacy as well as diagonal accountability, presented in the following sub-sections.