Pakistan’s government has announced that international aid groups can operate for another six months provided they register with officials in three months’ time, a relief for humanitarian groups worried since authorities suddenly shut the offices of Save the Children.
Though Pakistan’s Interior Ministry later reversed the order closing the charity, also without explanation, other groups feared being targeted.
On Tuesday 16th June, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with senior government officials to discuss how Pakistan will interact with aid groups in the future. The meeting ended with officials announcing that such groups now must register with the government and receive official approval to operate in Pakistan.
Authorities did not elaborate on why the government suddenly wants such groups to register, nor did it lay out those procedures.
Saeed Ahmed, a spokesman for Save the Children in Pakistan, welcomed the government announcement, though he noted officials have not officially said the group can reopen its offices.
“We will complete the paperwork to fulfill the government requirements to keep functioning [in Pakistan],” he said.
Save the Children has been under intense scrutiny in Pakistan due to local suspicions that the organisation was connected to the May 2011 killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. It was linked to the CIA, which used a vaccination campaign run by Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi to obtain DNA samples in Abbottabad, where bin Laden had been hiding.
Ahmed denied any link to the doctor involved in the CIA operation. Earlier, the group acknowledged the doctor had twice attended training workshops attended by more than a thousand others organised by the group in 2009 and 2010 on the health care needs of children and mothers.
“We want to make it clear that Save the Children is against the use of humanitarian organizations for espionage or any illegal activity,” Ahmed said. “We are against the use of (aid groups) against the interests of Pakistan.”
About 1,200 Pakistanis work for Save the Children, but no foreign staff have been in the country for the past 18 months.