Pakistan's interior minister threatened to "expose" foreign aid agencies for working against the country yesterday (Friday) after police closed the local headquarters of Save the Children.
Police sealed off the premises of the British charity in the capital, Islamabad. An anonymous security official told local media that Save the Children was supposedly engaged in "anti-Pakistani projects". What those activities might be was left unclear.
The interior ministry also ordered the expulsion of any of the aid agency's expatriate staff. However, Save the Children said that all of its employees in the country were Pakistani nationals.
"We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels," the charity said.
The authorities gave no warning of their decision to paralyse the operations of an aid agency that helps more than four million Pakistani children and their families, with 1,200 staff in the country. Save the Children's programmes in Pakistan cover health, education and food security and are carried out in "close collaboration with government ministries".
Save the Children said the main objective of its work was to "strengthen public service delivery systems in health, nutrition, education and child welfare".
However, Pakistan's rulers have a longstanding suspicion of foreign aid agencies, viewing them as symbols of Western influence. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, promised that other non-governmental organisations would receive the same treatment as Save the Children.
"Many NGOs are working against Pakistan and we are deliberating on exposing them in the parliament," he said. "Non-government organisations working against the country's national interest will not be allowed to continue their work in Pakistan."
The US commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 served to intensify Pakistan's suspicion of aid agencies, as the CIA allegedly used a hepatitis vaccination programme involving a Pakistani doctor as cover for its operation to track down the al-Qaeda leader.
The Pakistani authorities became convinced that the doctor, Shakil Afridi, was introduced to a CIA officer by an employee of Save the Children.
Whether there was any evidence to support this conclusion was unclear. But Save the Children became a focus of increased suspicion from then on. Several of the aid agency's staff were denied Pakistani visas in 2012.
The government is restricting the work of all aid agencies with a new law allowing any groups that receive foreign funding to be de-registered.