Inside Story
Is Pakistan off-limits for NGOs?
As the country orders Save the Children's foreign staff to leave, we ask if the most vulnerable will suffer as a result.
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2012 07:20

Pakistani authorities have ordered Save the Children's international workers to leave the country within four weeks over suspicions that a doctor used the aid agency as cover for a CIA operation.

"We have seen emerging and developing in Pakistan in the last decade or so an ever-increasing reliance of various intelligence agencies on the international non-governmental organisations."

- Imtiaz Gul from the Centre for Research and Security Studies

The aid agency said it received no explanation for the decision not to renew the visas of six of its foreign aid workers. But a Pakistani intelligence report linked it to the Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who it is alleged was recruited by the CIA to help track down Osama bin Laden last year.

Security sources quoted by the local media say Dr Afridi told investigators that he had been working for Save the Children. The aid group strongly denies this.

The charity has been operating in Pakistan for 30 years, employing more than 2,000 Pakistani staff and helping millions of children.

Ishbel Matheson, the spokesperson for Save the Children, told Al Jazeera: "We absolutely deny any of those allegations. Dr Afridi, the doctor in question, never worked for us. He was never employed by us. We didn't run a vaccination programme in Abbottabad. And any allegations of links between us and Dr Afridi in this respect are absolutely untrue.

"One single mistake can badly affect the humanitarian work that has been done in the last decade after the earthquake and floods .... This is the century of the NGOs. This is the century of relief and development."

- Khobaib Vahedy, the country director of Muslim Aid in Pakistan

"Just one thing to be clear though, he did attend a couple of our training programmes a few years ago. He was a local health official. We run regular health training programmes across Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have attended those. He was one of those who attended those two programmes. But that is absolutely the only connection we can find between Dr Afridi and Save the Children."

So is Pakistan becoming the wrong place for NGOs? Is this case based on fact or just suspicions? Should charities working in Pakistan be worried? And will it be the most vulnerable in Pakistan who suffer as a result?

Joining Inside Story, with presenter James Bays, to discuss this are guests: Farzana Bari, a human rights activist; Imtiaz Gul from the Centre for Research and Security Studies; and Khobaib Vahedy, the country director of Muslim Aid in Pakistan.

"Increasingly there are pockets in Pakistan that are controlled by non-state actors. And these, particularly the religious militant groups wherever they have their strongholds, do not like NGOs to come into their areas because NGOs' work is very much perceived as [associated] with modernity. And it is perceived as if NGOs are serving a Western agenda because most of the NGOs' work is about creating kind of a more secular [way and] promoting a more liberal agenda in terms of peoples' empowerment, particularly women's empowerment. And all these things are seen as directly in conflict with what they perceive is our local tradition and culture."

Farzana Bari, a human rights activist


  • Save the Children is accused of running a fake vaccination programme in Pakistan
  • The Pakistani government says the vaccination campaign was used to find Osama bin Laden
  • The group says it was wrongly linked to the killing of Osama bin Laden
  • Pakistan has previously linked Save the Children to the CIA
  • The group has been operating in Pakistan since 1979


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