This paper presents findings from a case study exploring the prospects for measuring the impacts of restricted civic space on development in Pakistan. It is part of a larger inquiry into the phenomenon of restrictions on civil society activity around the world, including in, but not restricted to, developing countries, most notably in the past decade.
Pakistan’s divided and fragile civil society has had a troubled and uneven relationship with political and military power. Efforts to restrict NGOs and aid-funded organisations promoting women’s or human rights have a long if intermittent history, and civic actors have struggled to engage in a military-dominated political settlement in which regular multiparty elections are a recent phenomenon. Yet civil society has played an important role in democratic struggles and across a range of development activities. Pakistan experienced several major natural disasters in the past decade, and humanitarian aid has been essential to ensuring basic (if inadequate) protections. NGOs provide a wide range of health, education and welfare services to millions of people in poverty in remote and hard-to-reach parts of the country who would otherwise go unserved.
Yet, in the name of security and national sovereignty, and apparently influenced closely by the global normative tide turning against democracy and human rights as China becomes a more significant development partner, restrictions on civil society have abounded, particularly since 2013. These have included arbitrary orders, new laws, denunciations of civic actors, and an atmosphere of fear for human rights defenders and the liberal democratic sections of civil society.
This case study summarises findings from analysis of a specific recent episode, that of proposed cancellations of 30-odd NGOs, mostly international organisations, in 2017.