Pakistan shuts down Save the Children office amid allegations of spying

Save the Children has been in Pakistan for more than three decades and is the largest aid organization there. The government has accused it of a role in the US bid to find Osama bin Laden.

B.K. Bangash/AP
A Pakistani police officer stands guard outside a sealed Save the Children office in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday. The government shut down the offices of the international aid group for violating its charter, the country’s interior minister and officials said Friday.

Pakistan shut down the Pakistan chapter of Save the Children on Thursday evening for alleged ties to spying, after years of acrimony between the government and the global aid organization.

Police sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said the aid agency was being shuttered because it was involved in "anti-Pakistani projects." The orders were traced back to the Ministry of Interior.

A lock was placed on the door at Save the Children’s office in the capital, Islamabad, and officials told Pakistani workers that any foreign nationals working with the organization had to leave the country within 15 days, The Associated Press reports. The BBC says that Save the Children has had no foreign employees in Pakistan for 18 months.

Save the Children said that the move came without warning, adding in a statement that "We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels." 

Relations between the charity and Pakistan have soured amid allegations by the Pakistani intelligence services that Save the Children was linked to a Pakistani doctor recruited by the CIA to help find Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. Save the Children has denied all allegations.

An official at the charity told Reuters that several staff members had been denied visas since 2012, when the Pakistani expelled six foreign staffers, and aid supplies. At the time, The Christian Science Monitor reported:

Some analysts say the eviction deflects attention from a potentially embarrassing investigation addressing the elephant in the room, namely: How could bin Laden have been living in Abottabad, the military garrison town without government or military knowledge?

...

“This is Pakistan, and where there is smoke the security establishment will definitely find fire. There could have been a more nuanced approach. But the security establishment tends to act quickly on smaller issues that they feel threaten their direct interests rather than big and serious ones,” says Cyril Almeida, a journalist at Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

Although Pakistan has long had a history of viewing international aid organizations with suspicion, it has toughened its policies in recent years, accusing such groups of using their work as a cover for espionage. The Pakistan government deregistered 3,000 local aid groups in December last year, Reuters reports.

Of particular concern is the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act 2015, a bill that, if approved, would make it easier for officials to prevent NGOs from working in Pakistan. Pakistani officials claim that it is supposed to “ensure transparency, efficiency and compliance” while “ensuring respect for our culture, norms and security."

When asked about the difficult landscape for foreign NGOs in the country, Economic Affairs Division (EAD) Secretary Salim Sethi this week told Pakistani media: “We don’t need to be apologetic. If an organisation is not meeting the criteria, then we shall not allow it to function in violation of the regulations.”

Save the Children is the largest aid organization in Pakistan and has had a base there for more than 35 years. Last year, their programs ranging from health to education reached 4 million children. They have about 1,200 Pakistani staff.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.