The Red Cross on Thursday suspended most of its aid projects in Pakistan and recalled foreign staff to the capital, following the brutal murder of a staff doctor.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had suspended activities run from Karachi and Peshawar, while it reviewed its operations after the killing of Khalil Rasjed Dale, who ran a health programme in Quetta.
The move puts on hold activities at all facilities run by the ICRC apart from a physical rehabilitation centre in Azad Kashmir.
The 900 national staff members of the Red Cross have been placed on paid leave, and 80 foreign staffers have been flown to Islamabad, CNN quoted ICRC spokesman Christian Cardon as saying.
“The recent attack against the ICRC compels us to completely reassess the balance between the humanitarian impact of our activities and the risks faced by our staff,” said Jacques de Maio, ICRC’s head of operations for South Asia. The mutilated body of 60-year-old health worker Dale was found outside Quetta on April 29, nearly four months after he was abducted, with a note that said the Red Cross’s failure to pay ransom was the reason he was killed.
Dale is the third Westerner to be beheaded by militants in Pakistan. The others include Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 and Piotr Stanczak, a Polish geologist, in 2009.
ICRC froze its activities in Quetta in the aftermath of Dale’s death, said the aid group, which had about 100 foreign staff in Pakistan at the end of 2011.
“We are currently analysing the situation and the environment with a view to setting out a clear and sustainable way forward,” said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan. “In the coming weeks, the ICRC will announce a decision on its future presence and set-up in Pakistan.”
Some of the expatriate staff recalled to Islamabad will work on the review process, while the majority of local staff in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar will go on paid leave, ICRC said.
The suspension in three of the country’s four provinces affects hundreds of thousands of people, spokesman Christian Cardon said in Geneva.
“We are painfully aware that these measures are having a severe and far-reaching impact on wounded, sick, physically disabled and other vulnerable people,” said Castella.
Despite Thursday’s announcement, ICRC said it would continue to offer remote support to centres it runs in cooperation with local organisations, including a physical rehabilitation centre in Peshawar.
The neutral humanitarian agency, which rarely suspends its work even in war zones, was providing mainly health and physical rehabilitation for victims of violence and natural disasters in Pakistan, many of whom have lost limbs.
ICRC, headquartered in Geneva, has been working in Pakistan since 1947 and last year almost 12,000 people were treated at its 120-bed hospital for weapons injuries in Peshawar and three clinics it supports in Quetta. More than 400,000 people visited 14 health clinics backed by the ICRC in Pakistan’s northwest.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2012.