ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities expelled the U.S.-based aid agency Save the Children from the country on Thursday, sealing its office in the capital and giving staff members 15 days to leave because of “anti-Pakistan activities,” according to the Interior Ministry.
The move, which could have a chilling effect on dozens of charities that work in Pakistan, was carried out after extensive monitoring of the group’s members and activities, a ministry official said in an interview.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, declined to discuss the specific reason for the action. But the move appeared to be related to long-standing allegations of Save the Children’s ties to the Pakistani physician recruited to help the CIA gain information about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts prior to the 2011 U.S. military mission that killed him in northwestern Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper published a photograph of the eviction order directing all “expatriates” in the organization to leave the country within 15 days. It was dated Thursday.
Save the Children, in a statement released by its Fairfield, Conn., headquarters, said that all 1,200 staff members in Pakistan were Pakistani, and there were no expatriate staffers working there.
The statement confirmed that the Islamabad office “has been closed and sealed off today [June 11] by the Pakistani authorities” and said that “Save the Children was not served any notice to this effect.”
The statement said: “We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest level.” The CIA declined to comment.
A copy of the Pakistani order was also sent to officials in Pakistan’s provinces, where the charity does most of its work, as well as to the country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Save the Children, a nongovernmental organization, advocates for poor and neglected children in 120 countries. It has worked in Pakistan for 35 years, its statement said. It said its health, education and other programs last year “reached more than four million children and their families” in “close collaboration with government ministries across the country.”
Pakistani intelligence officials have viewed the group with suspicion since shortly after the U.S. military raid that killed bin Laden in May 2011 in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, where U.S. officials later said he had been living for six years.
In 2012, intelligence officials accused Save the Children of working with Shakil Afridi, whom the CIA had hired to conduct a hepatitis immunization survey in Abbottabad to try to gain intelligence on bin Laden. The then-director of Save the Children’s Pakistani office was called to testify before a government inquiry into the Afridi case, and several foreign officials of the organization then in the country were told their visas would not be renewed.
Afridi was convicted of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison. His sentence was later reduced by 10 years by an appellate court.
In a 2012 interview with CBS News, a Save the Children executive in Pakistan denied the organization did anything improper. But the executive said Afridi had attended training programs that had been sponsored by Save the Children.
Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller in Washington and Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.