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ANALYSIS: Why did it take 4 years after the OBL raid for the ban on Save the Children?

A day after the Pakistan Government sealed the local offices of the UK-based Save the Children and order its foreign staff to leave the country, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said that no NGO that worked against Pakistan’s culture or laws/Constitution would be allowed to function in the country.

 

Save the Children Pakistan’s Facebook page was posting pictures and graphics on its times till the afternoon of June 12.

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A screengrab of Save the Children Pakistan’s Facebook page

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A screengrab of Save the Children Pakistan’s Twitter page

Save the Children & Abbottabad Commission Report

Incidentally, the Abbottabad Commission report, set up by the PPP government to investigate the US commando raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 devoted an entire chapter to “Dr Shakeel Afridi and Save the Children”.

The Commission was set up by then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in June 2011 and was headed by Supreme Court judge Justice Javed Iqbal. The report was leaked by Al Jazeera on July 8, 2013.

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Chapter 12 of the Abbottabad Commission’s report was devoted to “Dr Shakeel Afridi and SAVE the Children”

 

On Page 110 of the report, Dr Afridi was quoted as saying that he met the “chief” of Save the Children (STC) “an Australian by the name of Dr Michael McGrath”. It says that the STC official asked Dr Afridi if he (Afridi) was the one who had been kidnapped by Mangal Bagh in the Khyber Agency (which Dr Afridi had been).

It goes on to quote Dr Afridi as saying that the STC official also asked who was in Mangal Bagh’s Shura and why he had opposed STC’s vaccination programme. He then told Dr Afridi that he should come to Islamabad for a meeting. The report says that Dr Afridi did that and in Islamabad he was introduced to another STC staffer who is mentioned in the report as just “Kate”.

On Page 111 of the Commission Report, it is mentioned that Dr Afridi said he met this “Kate”, said to be an Australian citizen “several times” and during which he gave detailed information on Mangal Bagh and his financing to the STC staffers.

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A policeman posted outside the Pakistan office of Save the Children in Islamabad

 

He said that met this woman in a USAID warehouse but he did not know its whereabouts because he was always driven there in a vehicle with tinted windows. The Commission, in parentheses, noted that this commenting that tinted windows normally prevented those outside from looking in and not the other way around.

On the next page, the Commission said that Dr Afridi admitted to being Rs 1.3 million and that these funds were deposited directly into his personal bank account.

On Page 117, the testimony of Dr Ihsanullah Turabi, Provincial Coordinator for National Family Planning and Primary Healthcare, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government, was listed. He said that in his opinion STC’s “intentions and reputation were not good because it was working for the Americans”.

 

Testimony of Save the Children’s Pakistan director to the Commission

On Page 121, the testimony of the then Save the Children Pakistan country director Dr David Thomas Wright is mentioned. He said that he was outraged at the accusation that STC was involved in any such thing and that it in fact was involved in activities — such as vaccinations — that were helping save the lives of many Pakistanis.

Dr Wright denied that Dr Afridi ever worked for Save the Children or that any of his alleged activities were in any way linked to the organization. He was also quoted as saying that while Dr Afridi was a doctor posted in Khyber Agency, the STC’s programme was confined to Mohmand, Bajaur and South Wazirisitan agencies only. He said that Dr Afridi was “one of 50,000 doctors” trained by the STC and that on two occasions he had applied for a job but was unsuccessful each time.

 The Commission asked Dr Wright if he recalled an STC staffer who was expelled from Pakistan and subsequently managed to re-enter Pakistan under a different name. The Commission quotes his reaction in the following words: “Dr Wright admitted what had happened and said that there some grey areas which needed to be plugged.” Dr Wright also said that at various points in time, 45-60 expatriates had worked for STC and that at that point in time there were five and all of them were based in Islamabad.

The Commission noted at the end of this chapter that the issue of foreign NGOs in Pakistan was “fraught with anomalies” and that it seemed as if any NGO from overseas could come to Pakistan and open an office and start working.

It noted  that foreign NGOs should be allowed to conduct operations in Pakistan only after clearance from the security agencies. The Commission gave the STC’s example and said that it was working in Pakistan was based on a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Economic Affairs Division but that this should not have stopped the Law Ministry from vetting the agreement.

 

Questions that need to be asked

The one question that many people are now asking is that why did it take the Government four years to take this action given that it was mentioned even in the Abbottabad Commission report.

Furthermore, if the interior minister says that some foreign NGOs are backed by Israel, India or America, does that mean that organizations that operate in Pakistan but which are funded by countries other than these — a fact admitted by the government itself — are kosher?

Third, and by no means the least, why are madrassahs not registered? This was something that General Pervez Musharraf had said he would do — when he was president and the army chief — but was unable to. Shouldn’t the issue of registration be applied to all organizations in the country?

The testimony that Dr Shakeel Afridi gave to the Commission about the STC’s role was in too much detail to have been made up and could not have been ignored by any government. However, the question arises that why wait all this time for the action.

Reaction on Twitter — Save the Children trends in Pakistan

 The news of the Pakistan office of Save the Children being sealed and its foreign staff being asked to leave Pakistan led to considerable comment on social media, especially Twitter

 

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