Pakistan has asked foreign staff members of the international aid agency, Save the Children, to leave the country within a fortnight. Though no reason was cited for this decision, the organisation has been in Pakistani crosshairs for a year now over allegations that it had helped the CIA zero in on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Save the Children has rejected these allegations but reports in the media suggest that Shakeel Afridi — the Pakistani doctor who helped gather DNA samples of bin Laden’s family by running a fake immunisation programme in Abbottabad — had named the organisation at some stage of his interrogation.
According to Save the Children officials, all their six international staff members had been asked to leave the country within a fortnight. The order was issued earlier this week. Even before this order came, aid agencies had been complaining about the difficulties they were facing in getting visas for their international staff and clearances for visiting the frontier areas where a number of camps have been set up for the internally displaced persons.
The CIA’s use of a health programme to gather intelligence has been widely criticised both domestically and internationally. Though the harsh sentence pronounced on Dr. Afridi has drawn flak, several aid agencies argue that his actions had affected their work. In particular, the polio immunisation programme has been greatly affected with terrorists citing Dr. Afridi’s role as a reason for banning the campaign in areas under their control.
InterAction, an alliance of nearly 200 American NGOs — including CARE, Plan International and Helen Keller International — had in a statement last year said the CIA’s tactic had endangered the lives of foreign aid workers. “The CIA-led immunisation campaign compromises the perception of U.S. NGOs as independent actors on a common good and casts suspicion on their humanitarian workers. The CIA’s actions may also jeopardise the lives of humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan.”