ISLAMABAD: Authorities on Thursday ordered the international aid group Save the Children to leave the country saying the charity was “working against the country”, police and government officials said.
Government administration officials accompanied by police arrived at the charity’s office in the heart of Islamabad after working hours and placed a lock on the door and a notice saying the building had been sealed.
“We have sealed the office of Save the Children on government instructions,” Kamran Cheema, a senior government official told AFP.
“We don’t know the reasons behind this order. We were sent a three-line notification by the interior ministry saying that this office should be sealed and all the expatriate staff be sent back to their countries within 15 days,” Cheema said.
The government did not make any formal announcement but an official from the interior ministry said that the agency was involved in “anti-Pakistan activities”.
“Their activities were being monitored since a long time. They were doing something which was against Pakistan’s interest,” said the official without giving his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Local police chief Hakim Khan told AFP that one of his officers was standing guard outside the charity’s office on the orders of the government but that he was “unaware of the reasons behind closing down the Save the Children office”.
No one from Save the Children’s Pakistan branch could be reached for comment.
In 2012, a Pakistan intelligence report had linked the aid group to Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi, who the CIA allegedly used to carry out a fake vaccination programme as they searched for Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The charity’s expat staff were forced to leave Pakistan after the accusations emerged.
Save the Children has always denied it had any links with Afridi or the CIA.
Pakistan has since hardened its policies towards international aid groups, accusing them of being covers for spying operations and has repeatedly warned them to restrict their activities, vowing stern action for any “suspicious” activity.
Only last week it had been reported that the government was putting a stricter regime in place for the monitoring and scrutiny of international non-government organisations (INGOs) currently operating in the country.
A senior official from the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) had confirmed to Dawn that in an initial review, a committee consisting of representatives from the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and the EAD had rejected some INGOs’ applications to continue operations in Pakistan.
However, the official had said a second review was underway and would be completed over the next few days, after which the EAD would formally convey its decision to the organisations under scrutiny.