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Foreign spies?

Shakoor Rahim, Islamabad/ shsSeptember 10, 2012

The Pakistani government has confirmed that it is temporarily suspending its earlier decision of expeling aid organization Save the Children's foreign staff from the country on spying allegations.

A Pakistani health worker with Save the Children talks to children about hygiene; Photo: EPA/UK DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Last week, the Pakistani government ordered foreign workers of Save the Children to leave the country within two weeks, accusing the aid group of helping US spies in their hunt for the former chief of the terrorist organization al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 by US Special Forces in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in a covert operation.

Observers say that Save the Children had been under the scrutiny of the Pakistani intelligence officials since Pakistan captured Dr. Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor, who the Pakistani government says was spying for the US intelligence organization, the CIA. In May, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason by a Pakistani court.

The Pakistani government claims that prior to bin Laden's assassination, Afridi had been working as a spy for the CIA, distributing fake vaccinations in Abbottabad in the hopes of finding a sample of bin Laden's DNA. Furthermore, authorities allege that Save the Children had connections with Dr. Afridi. They claim that both Afridi and the aid group had been used as cover by the CIA to find the whereabouts of bin Laden.

Although Save the Children and the US deny these allegations, Pakistani officials say they have "concrete proof" of the aid group's connections with Afridi.

Dr. Shakil Afridi; Photo: Aqeel Ahmed/AP/dapd
Observers think that Afridi's case will go to the Supreme CourtImage: dapd

According to the Pakistani media, Islamabad was under pressure from the US and Western countries to reverse its expulsion orders.

Full cooperation

Ghulam Qadri, a spokesman of Save the Children in Islamabad, welcomed the Pakistani government's decision to suspend the expulsion orders and reiterated that the aid group had no links with Afridi or the CIA.

"Save the Children is fully cooperating with the Pakistani government's judicial commission which was set up to investigate bin Laden's assassination. We have given documentary evidence to the authorities. The evidence proves that we had no connection with Afridi," Qadri told DW, adding that the Pakistani government had probably suspended its decision in the light of the evidence provided by his organization.

Qadri said that Afridi neither worked at Save the Children Pakistan nor was he associated with the group in any manner. He said the only objective of the organization was to work for the welfare of the Pakistani children.

"Around 2,000 people are working for Save the Children in Pakistan. Only six of them are foreigners. The organization is providing help to over seven million children country-wide. This is our priority and we'll continue to do this work."

Policemen stand guard near the partially demolished compound where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces, photo: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
Bin Laden's compound was raided in May, 2011Image: Reuters


Dr. Mehdi Hasan, former chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told DW that the Pakistani government should say what kind of proof it had in relation to Save the Children's alleged links with Afridi.

The veteran activist also said that NGOs should also be open about their work and that they should brief the media about their activities on a regular basis.

But many other rights activists say that the Pakistani government has a history of mistrusting foreign NGOs, and point out that this is not the first time that it has accused a rights organization of involvement in "anti-Pakistan activities."