ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan has ordered the foreign staff of Save the Children to leave the country, underscoring how aid agencies in Pakistan often must cope with a difficult environment.
Save the Children spokesman Ghulam Qadri said the government did not give any reason as to why the group's six international staff members had to leave. But he said the charity’s work in the country would not stop.
"We have over 2,000 staff working for us working in Pakistan. The absolute majority are national staff, among them only six are international staff. We are committed to continuing to operate our programs,” said Qadri.
The aid group had been under scrutiny for suggestions it was involved with organizing meetings between the United States and the doctor who helped track down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed last year by a U.S. raid into Pakistan.
Qadri denied allegations the aid group put the doctor, Shakil Afridi, in touch with the CIA. Afridi was accused of helping the CIA by running a fake vaccination campaign, and was jailed by Pakistan for high treason.
The government’s action against Save the Children comes one week after the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] announced it was cutting back its operations in Pakistan, after one of its employees was kidnapped and killed.
ICRC spokesman Najum ul Saqib Iqbal said the murder forced the organization to review its presence in the country.
“ICRC is going to resume its operations in Pakistan, but with a very reduced setup and in a very limited manner,” said Iqbal.
Iqbal said the ICRC is still in discussions with the government on how to continue with limited activities.
An official with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, Adnan Khan, said incidents like the car bombing this week in Peshawar that wounded two U.S. government employees clearly sent a negative message.
Human-rights advocate Farzana Bari said Pakistan's government has been unable to provide enough security for either international or national aid workers operating in volatile areas.
“Unfortunately, the state’s ability to give protection to people has been eroded, because as compared to the state authority, these non-state actors seem to be a far more powerful,” said Bari.
Save the Children has worked in Pakistan for almost 33 years. It provides help to about 7 million women and children in the country.