The government of Pakistan shuttered the offices of the international aid agency Save the Children on Thursday and ordered any foreign workers with the organization to leave the country within 15 days.
The order was the apparent culmination of years of allegations that Save the Children cooperated with the CIA in tracking down Osama bin Laden at a hide-out in Abbottabad. The organization, based in Britain, has denied any involvement.
A police officer guarded the front gate of Save the Children’s Islamabad offices after the Interior Ministry issued the expulsion order.
The order came three days after the Pakistani government created a commission to oversee the activities of the international organizations working in Pakistan. Of the 121 international groups working in Pakistan, licenses of about 15, including Save the Children, have been revoked recently.
The expulsion order was not the first for Save the Children, which has worked in Pakistan for 35 years. Foreign workers with the organization were ordered to leave the country in 2012, also in response to the U.S. raid that killed Bin Laden. However, it appears that the expulsion was never carried out.
Authorities have accused Save the Children of introducing U.S. officials to Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who purportedly led a hepatitis B vaccination campaign in Abbottabad in an effort to collect DNA evidence from Bin Laden’s compound. Save the Children has said the organization played no such role.
As an outgrowth of the accusations against Save the Children, there has been a general air of mistrust among many Pakistanis toward other international aid organizations.
An official with Save the Children in Islamabad said the organization was still “figuring out what the expulsion means.” Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, he added: “We have 1,200 employees working for us at the moment, all of them Pakistani. There are no expatriates working with the organization. I think we are being unfairly accused.”
Save the Children has carried out a variety of programs in Pakistan aimed at improving the health, education and economic security of children.
However, a leading pediatrician and medical school professor insisted that the expulsion of the organization would not seriously damage Pakistani healthcare. He said the country is heavily dependent on projects by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, but less so on smaller nongovernmental organizations.
“Save the Children’s departure won’t have a big impact,” said Dr. Ghaffar Billo of Afa Khan University Hospital. “The accusations are serious and might endanger the lives of other aid workers here. Any foreign aid agency’s involvement in helping a spy agency goes against the international humanitarian law. And a sad truth, if proven.”