Save the Children foreign staff ordered out of Pakistan

Save the Children Pakistan poster Save the Children has worked in Pakistan since 1979

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Save the Children's foreign staff have been ordered to leave Pakistan within two weeks, the aid agency confirms.

It says it has been given no reason for the order, but correspondents say the move is thought to be fall-out from the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.

After the raid a Pakistani doctor was arrested for helping the CIA track him.

Pakistani intelligence officials accuse Save the Children of involvement - the group denies the claims. Six of its 2,000 staff in Pakistan are foreigners.

The charity, which has operations all over the world, has worked in Pakistan for more than 30 years. Correspondents say it is not thought the forthcoming expulsions will have any significant impact on its operations in the short term.

A Save the Children spokesman in London told the BBC that the charity was seeking "clarification" from the Pakistani authorities in relation to the expulsions. The spokesman said it was not yet clear whether the agency would be allowed to send replacement expatriate staff.

The Pakistani government has so far not officially commented on the expulsions.

Save the Children say they have come under pressure in Pakistan since Osama Bin Laden was killed.

Pakistan faced acute embarrassment in the wake of the raid. Internationally, that was due to questions about the al-Qaeda leader's apparently prolonged presence in a garrison town.

Domestically, however, the debate was mainly focused on how the Americans were able to carry out the operation without Pakistani knowledge, and the authorities here clearly felt they had to show they were taking measures to stop anything of the like happening again.

There have since been rumours spread, though no evidence produced, about international charities collaborating with foreign spy agencies.

Foreign aid agencies feel they are being unfairly targeted. But some aid workers say if the CIA did indeed use a doctor to gather intelligence, that would be a breach of international humanitarian law and it may have had a hand in endangering legitimate aid workers here.

'Zero tolerance policy'

Dr Shakil Afridi was arrested after it emerged he had been running a fake vaccination programme on behalf of the CIA as part of efforts to track Bin Laden, who was killed by US special forces in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad in May last year.

The US authorities say Dr Afridi provided "very helpful" information for the raid and have called for his release.

Although Pakistan and the US are ostensibly partners in the fight against militancy, the Pakistani authorities viewed his actions as treason.

Media reports say Dr Afridi was in contact with staff of the charity.

But the Save the Children spokesman said that Dr Afridi had never been paid for any work by the charity and had never run any of its vaccination programmes - although he had attended a seminar shortly before his arrest.

"We never knowingly employ anyone who has worked for the CIA or any other security service," the spokesman said. "It is totally against our impartial humanitarian mandate... Save the Children is a global organisation and has a zero tolerance policy for people involved in work that is not humanitarian.

SAVE THE CHILDREN IN PAKISTAN

  • Helped seven million people in 2010
  • Pakistan is one of the agency's biggest programmes
  • Helps war and flood victims and refugees from Afghanistan

"We reiterate our offer to the Pakistani authorities to examine our country office financial records and interview any of our staff concerned with our operation there."

Dr Afridi was jailed for 33 years in May in a controversial hearing held behind closed doors under Pakistan's tribal justice system.

It was originally thought that he had been imprisoned for running the fake vaccination programme - but court papers later showed that he was sentenced for alleged links to a banned militant group.

His family have called the treason allegations "rubbish" and his lawyers said they would appeal.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says that over the past 18 months foreign staff of other aid agencies in Pakistan have reported increased restrictions on the way they work.

Most international agencies report that it has become harder for foreign staff to get visas, and to get permission to move around the country, he says.

Despite that, huge numbers of Pakistanis have been reliant on their help, particularly following displacement because of conflict in the north-west and after natural disasters, like the floods of the past two years.

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