Pakistan Shuts Down Save the Children’s Offices; Says Charity Was Working Against National Interests

A Pakistani policeman stands guard outside the office of the international charity Save the Children, sealed by order of Pakistani authorities in Islamabad, June 11, 2015.  AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
A Pakistani policeman stands guard outside the office of the international charity ‘Save the Children’ sealed by order of Pakistani authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015. Pakistani authorities on June 11, 2015 closed down the officeunder the suspicions of ‘working against the country’, police and government officials said. Government administration officials accompanied by police arrived at the building housing the international aid group in the heart of the capital Islamabad after office working hours and sealed it. AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pakistani government on Friday sought to enforce the country’s laws surrounding non-profit organizations following a controversial and unexpected decision to order the closure of the offices of the international charity Save the Children.

Pakistani police late on Thursday shut down the charity’s offices in Islamabad. Government officials said the charity had been given 15 days to wrap up its operations in the south Asian country. No precise reason was given for the decision except that the group was working against the country’s national interests.

Save the Children had been in the spotlight since the 2011 U.S. commando raid in Pakistan that successfully targeted and killed Osama bin Laden.

Just days after the raid in the northern city of Abbottabad, Pakistani Dr. Shakeel Afridi was arrested for carrying out a fake immunization program for the CIA that sought to take cheek swab samples of bin Laden’s children to be matched with available DNA records of the world’s most wanted man.

Afridi was subsequently found to have carried out the program with Save the Children’s sponsorship. A senior Save the Children official shortly after Afridi’s arrest told CBS News on condition of anonymity that the charity was only aware of Afridi’s work to help children in a country where impoverished families cannot afford the expense of immunization and had no connections with the CIA.

On Friday, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan told journalists, “We don’t want to put a ban on any NGO, but we want to compel them to work under their charter. We will support those NGOs who are doing a good job. But we cannot allow anti-state NGOs to operate under the umbrella of the good-performing NGOs.”

Save the Children strongly objected to the Pakistani government’s decision. In a statement, it said, “Save the Children was not served any notice to this effect. We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels.”

Human rights activists said the manner in which the closure was ordered made it deeply controversial.

“The charges [against Save the Children] have not been clearly explained in public, which raises suspicion over the motive. Why can’t the rationale for the government’s decision be explained in public?” asked Najmuddin, a human rights activist who uses only one name.

Western diplomats warned the decision raises compelling questions over the ability of non-profit groups to continue working in a country where more than one-third of a total population of about 200 million lives in poverty.

“For the past year, we have detected a tightening of controls around NGOs,” said one Western diplomat based in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on the condition that he would not be named. “The decision to ban Save the Children shows that the authorities are determined to tighten controls. This is a very bad omen for the future.”


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