ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has ordered 21 foreign aid groups to wrap up their activities and prepare to leave after they failed to re-register under tough regulations introduced two years ago, officials said Thursday.
The officials said Open Society Foundations, the charity founded by George Soros, and the South Africa-based ActionAid were among the groups informed of the decision this week, without providing a complete list. The non-governmental organizations have been given two months to close their offices and vacate the country.
The government is scrutinizing the documents of another 19 foreign aid groups to determine whether they should be allowed to remain in the country. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief reporters.
Pakistan has long treated foreign aid groups with suspicion, fearing they could mask efforts to spy on the country. It stepped up its monitoring after the CIA used a vaccination campaign as a front to gather information on Osama bin Laden ahead of the U.S. commando raid that killed him in 2011.
Jonathan Birchall, the spokesman for Open Society Foundations, confirmed receiving a letter from the Interior Ministry rejecting the group's re-registration. He declined to provide further details.
The group said Monday it was seeking clarification after the Interior Ministry told it and other organizations that they must halt operations in Pakistan within 60 days. It said that in 2015 Pakistan ordered all NGOs already operating in the country to register with the ministry, a process that entailed submitting detailed accounts of their funding.
"At the end of November, the Interior Ministry issued letters advising more than a dozen international NGOs that their applications to register had been rejected but giving no reasons. The affected organizations may lodge an appeal within 90 days, but it is not clear how this process will be managed," Open Society Foundations said.
Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, which represents scores of foreign aid groups, says their work directly benefits about 29 million people in Pakistan. Foreign aid groups contributed some $285 million in funding for development and emergency relief in 2016, and employ over 5,000 local staff, it said.
The Open Society Foundations first started working in Pakistan in 2005, providing $3 million of emergency relief for victims of a devastating earthquake. It provided another $6 million in emergency funds after severe flooding in 2010.