Pakistan orders Save the Children `spies` to leave

Pakistan has accused `Save the Children` of being used as a cover by US spies tracking down former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Updated: Sep 06, 2012, 15:36 PM IST

London: Pakistan has asked foreigners working for `Save the Children` to leave the country in a week`s time after accusing the aid organisation of being used as a cover by US spies tracking down former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

The aid group came under suspicion from authorities ever since Dr Shakil Afridi, accused of assisting the CIA in tracking down Osama, claimed that Save the Children had introduced him to US intelligence officers, reports The Guardian.

Pakistani officials have said they are fully justified in expelling the few foreign staff still working in the country.

A Pakistani intelligence official has claimed they have "concrete proof" backing up the story of Dr Afridi, and said evidence had been found showing "spies" at the NGO had "engaged" Afridi, who is currently serving a 33 year jail term.

"Pakistan carried out a thorough investigation involving all our leading agencies. It was one of the longest investigations in our history. It is a very serious matter and the foreign staff were asked to leave only after concrete proof was uncovered," he said.

The expulsions come despite lobbying by western diplomats on behalf of the respected organisation, which has been working in impoverished areas of the country for decades.

Reacting to the accusations, Save the Children has said it had "never knowingly employed anyone who works for the CIA, or any other security service".

"Dr Afridi was never employed by Save the Children, nor was he ever paid for any kind of work. We have never run a vaccination programme in Abbottabad," it said in a statement.

"Save the Children is a global organisation and has a zero-tolerance policy for people involved in work that is not humanitarian and does not benefit children and their families. We reiterate our offer to the Pakistani authorities to examine our country office financial records and interview any of our staff concerned with our operation there," it said.

The organisation said that only six of its 2,000 staff in Pakistan are foreign nationals and that it would "continue our daily work helping millions of children across Pakistan".