Pakistan has ordered all Save the Children’s foreign staff to leave the country within four weeks, in the wake of accusations linking the aid agency to a fake vaccination program used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Save the Children said it had received no explanation for the order, but a Pakistan intelligence report has linked the charity to Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor involved in the fake program as the US searched for the al-Qaeda chief.
The aid agency’s six expatriate staff have been asked to leave within four weeks.
“Earlier this week we got a call from special branch instructing us to send back all expatriate staff,” Save the Children spokesman Ghulam Qadir said.
“There were no reasons given. We are working with the government to comply with the instructions,” Qadir said.
“We will continue to operate in Pakistan and Save the Children is currently serving more than seven million children with 2,000 dedicated national staff,” he said.
“Our commitment is that we will continue to carry out our program activities to meet the needs and rights of the children,” he added.
Save the Children denied allegations that it introduced Afridi to the CIA.
“On Shakeel Afridi, our stand is very clear that there is absolutely no truth in it. There is no concrete proof to these allegations,” Qadir said.
Pakistani officials claim they have “concrete proof” backing up the story of Afridi, the doctor from the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan who confessed to the ISI, the country’s military spy agency, after being arrested last year.
Although Save the Children and the US government have always denied any relationship between the CIA and the aid organization, Pakistani officials say they are fully justified in expelling the few foreign staff still working in the country.
A Pakistani intelligence official said evidence had been found showing “spies” at the non-governmental organization had “engaged” Afridi, who is currently serving a 33-year jail term.
“Pakistan carried out a thorough investigation involving all our leading agencies,” he said. “It was one of the longest investigations in our history. It is a very serious matter and the foreign staff were asked to leave only after concrete proof was uncovered.”
The expulsions come despite lobbying by Western diplomats on behalf of a respected organization that has been working in impoverished areas of the country for decades, including during the devastating 2010 floods when it assisted more than 3 million people.