Attacks on humanitarian workers in Pakistan have increased in the last four years, with five personnel abducted in the first two months of 2012, and three killed in separate incidents in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab Provinces, the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF) has warned.
The escalating risk has forced the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to suspend operations in Pakistan, particularly since the body of an ICRC health programme manager was found on the outskirts of Quetta on 29 April, with a note stating that he had been killed because “demands” had not been met. Khalil Rasjed Dale, 60, had been abducted four months ago.
The decision will have a ripple effect. "It is hard to give an exact figure, but we can say tens of thousands of people will be affected," Anastasia Isyuk, a spokesperson for the ICRC in Pakistan, told IRIN. Only a single ICRC-run rehabilitation project in Pakistan-administered Kashmir is still operating. "Our projects were mainly in the health, and also the in water and sanitation areas," Isyuk said. "No timeframe can be put on how long the ongoing review may take."
Other humanitarian organizations have also been affected by the ICRC decision. "Yes, we are also looking at security and reviewing measures, as are other organizations, but our work in the country is continuing," Aine Fey, Country Director of the UK-based charity, Concern Worldwide, told IRIN.
This is the first time the ICRC has suspended activities in Pakistan since it began working there in 1947. Offices in the port city of Karachi, and Peshawar, in the north, have been closed. International staff have been recalled to the capital, Islamabad, and national staff placed on paid leave. The Quetta office of the organization has been closed since Dale was kidnapped.
According to the PHF, the list of humanitarian aid staff who have been attacked in the past several years includes eight staff members of two organizations, who were shot in targeted attacks in 2009, and six who were killed in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province in 2010. Four more personnel were abducted and one murdered in an attack in Balochistan, and 14 were abducted in 2011.
Until now, none of the perpetrators have been captured or brought to justice, said the Forum, and seven humanitarian staff are still being held hostage since they were abducted in 2011 and 2012.