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It’s the CIA which is the problem in Pakistan, not Save the Children

2012 September 6
by Paul Vallely

The decision by the government of Pakistan to expel six foreign aid workers is, in one sense, understandable. Many in that country feel deeply ambivalent about the “war on terror” which the United States and its allies are waging, with a heavy loss of innocent life, in so-called collateral damage, by US drone attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. Many still smart at what the breach of Pakistani sovereignty involved in the incursion by US special forces to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad last year.

But the Pakistanis are almost certainly hitting out at the wrong target by linking Save the Children with Dr Shakil Afridi who was sentenced to 33 years in jail in Pakistan for running a bogus vaccination programme which US intelligence service used to track down Bin Laden. It was wrong of the CIA to use a humanitarian programme in this way. The evidence of that is clear from the large numbers of Pakistani parents now refusing to take their children to be inoculated for fear that the health projects are a CIA front.

Save the Children have been tainted in the eyes of some Pakistanis because Dr Afridi attended one of its training seminars shortly before the attack. The charity protests it has no links to Dr Afridi or the CIA. The training session he attended is one it has run for more than 100,000 Pakistani health-workers over the years. He has never been employed by Save the Children, nor paid for any kind of work. The charity has never run a vaccination programme in Abbottabad. Nor is there any evidence of any links between Save the Children and the US intelligence services in Pakistan or elsewhere at any time.

What is clear is that around seven million Pakistani children are in receipt of help from the charity which spends a massive $100m a year in the country and employs 2,000 local aid workers. The Pakistani authorities would do well now to grant visas to six more senior members of  Save the Children’s international staff to replace those it has expelled. Not to do so would do a great disservice to millions of its own children. But the CIA should also announce that it will not in future jeopardise important aid assistance by infiltrating agents into humanitarian work.

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