Red Cross suspends operations in two major Pakistani cities

The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations in two of Pakistan’s largest cities and announced it would review its presence in the South Asian country after the brutal murder of Khalil Rasjed Dale, one of its workers who had been kidnapped in January

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended operations in two of Pakistan’s largest cities Thursday and announced it would review its presence in the South Asian country after the brutal murder of one of its workers who had been kidnapped in January.

The beheaded body of Khalil Rasjed Dale, a 60-year-old British national and a Red Cross health program manager, was found near the southwestern city of Quetta on April 29, about four months after gunmen seized him in Quetta while he was on his way home from work in a Red Cross-marked vehicle. A note attached to his body claimed that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for his murder and stated that he was killed because no ransom was paid.

The Red Cross has worked in Pakistan since the country’s independence in 1947 and provides an array of humanitarian services, including healthcare assistance and natural-disaster relief. With Dale's death, the organization decided to suspend its work in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, and in Peshawar, another major city perched on the edge of the country's volatile tribal region along the Afghan border.

“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, the ICRC's South Asia operations chief, in a prepared statement.

[Updated, 5:53 a.m. May 10: The organization had already stopped its work in Balochistan -- where Quetta is located -- following Dale's kidnapping, and had closed three other field offices in northwest Pakistan. The suspensions announced Thursday will effectively put on hold Red Cross operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, leaving only Punjab province unaffected.

Thousands of people who rely on medical aid and development assistance from the Red Cross will be affected by the move. A 150-bed hospital in Peshawar operated by the Red Cross will be shut down once patients are moved to other facilities, officials said.]

International nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian groups have found it increasingly difficult to work in Pakistan, a country where the risk of kidnappings of foreigners runs high and mistrust of Western organizations and individuals is pervasive.

That mistrust was heightened by a phony vaccination campaign engineered by the CIA to help pinpoint Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts in the weeks before the U.S. commando raid that killed him in the military city of Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. The campaign, carried out by Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani doctor, reinforced long-held conspiracy theories that Western humanitarian projects camouflage espionage operations.

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-- Alex Rodriguez

Photo: Pakistani volunteers carry the coffin of British aid worker Khalil Rasjed Dale on April 30 before handing it over to Red Cross officials in Quetta. Credit: Banaras Khan / AFP/Getty Images

 
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