Naureen Aqueel

Foreign welfare workers face little security threat

Posted on: April 28, 2008

Published in The Outlook (class newsletter), April-May, 2008.

While the media portray a very frightening picture of foreigners living and working in Pakistan, with innumerable reports of killings, bomb blasts and kidnappings linked to nearly every report of foreigners in Pakistan, some individual accounts of foreign social workers here present a different picture. Pakistan, according to them is a viable land for welfare work and is not seen as a ‘terrorist nation’.

Foreign workers at NGOs, who were part of our survey, have not faced any security problems in their work here despite having travelled to rural areas in Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir, as well as areas like Waziristan, Tibet and Mangophir.

“I usually do not take security with me when travelling” says Wilson Lee, Program Officer for South and Southeast Asia National Endowment of Democracy based in Washington, USA. “But, if I am going to areas which have high security risk I do take security along.”

Speaking about his foreign colleagues, Media and PR Officer, Islamic Relief, Muhammad Niyaz says, “The work environment in Pakistan is comparatively better than some of the other countries in this region. Most of the foreigners that I know are enjoying working and living here, some of them to the extent that they don’t want to leave the country even after they complete their tenure.” He says there are only a few places here where there is a security concern and that there has not been a single incident of discrimination or security threat to his foreign colleagues so far.

Most foreigners find the people of Pakistan to be friendly and hospitable. It is easier to mobilize communities for development projects here as compared to Afghanistan.  However, some do admit that sometimes residents are suspicious of them suspecting them of wishing to impose foreign culture and religion on them.

Resistance or problems faced by foreigners working here are usually not by the people but by intelligence agencies, reveals Wilson Lee who has been bothered by intelligence agencies asking too many questions about his work which is centered around promoting democracy in Pakistan.

The role of foreign staff at various NGOs is commendable. Many occupy crucial positions in their respective organisations. Working away from home and in a different environment, these foreigners help improve Pakistan in their own different ways.

When contacted, the NGO Resource Centre said no overall figures existed on the number of foreign-based NGOs working in Pakistan, but stressed that a number of them do carry out important activities here. And it is not only foreign-based NGOs where foreigners lend their services, they also do so in local-based NGOs. Many NGOs reported that some foreigners often come temporarily for research or other specific projects and leave thereafter.

Foreigners working in Unicef, Green Star Social Marketing, Aga Khan Educational Service and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan could not be contacted after repeated calls due to their busy schedules. Information provided by some these NGOs about their work however shows that they carry out commendable activities here and there haven’t been any cases of security threat to their foreign workers here.

Other NGOs contacted either did not respond or did not have foreign workers.

With additional reporting by Asra Mustafa, Farwa Jafari, Fatima bint-e-Razi and Saman Nabiya.

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