By Zia Ur Rehman

Feb 1-7, 2012

British aid worker Khalil Dale, who was killed in Pakistan last year, was named the posthumous winner of the 2013 Robert Burns Humanitarian Award in a January 27 ceremony in Ayrshire, United Kingdom.

Dale, a Muslim who was working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), had been kidnapped on January 5 last year in Quetta and authorities found him dead on a roadside on April 29. A note found on his body said the ICRC had failed to pay the ransom of $30m (Rs 2.7 billion), according to news reports.

Attacks on aid workers, both local and international, have increased in Pakistan in the last few years, security analysts and aid workers say. The attacks are compelling humanitarian groups to suspend their activities in the country.

The 2012 report from the Aid Workers Security Database has grouped Pakistan among the five countries where aid workers face the most attacks. After two years of decline, attacks on aid workers worldwide rose to 150 in 2011 from 129 in 2010, and the number of victims of the attacks – 308 – was the highest ever recorded, the report said. But the vast majority of the attacks, 72 percent, occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Pakistan.

The report counts 15 incidents of attacks on aid workers in Pakistan in 2012 and 12 incidents in 2011. But before 2009, there were only three or fewer attacks annually.

Most recently, unidentified gunmen shot dead on January 1 seven aid workers including six women and a male medical technician working for Support With Working Solutions (SWWS), a local NGO, near the Anbar Interchange in Swabi district.

In an attack on January 5, two aid workers with Al-Khidmat Foundation, an NGO working in education, were shot dead in the northwestern city of Charsadda.

Late Red Cross worker Khalil Dale

Nine health workers involved in Pakistan’s polio eradication campaign were gunned down in Karachi and Peshawar between December 17 and 19. Six of them were women. Another attack last July wounded a World Health Organisation (WHO) Ghanaian doctor and his driver while they worked on the polio campaign in Karachi.

Birgitta Almeby, the 71-year old female Swedish aid worker who was injured in an attack in Lahore on December 3 died in Stockholm Hospital on December 12. She was associated with a Western donor agency which was running charities, including a technical training institute and an adult literacy centre.

In August 2011, a western development worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped after gunmen tricked their way into his Lahore home. Officials believe he is being held by Al Qaeda and Taliban extremists in the tribal regions.

“Frequent attacks and kidnapping of NGO workers are a great concern for the civil society, and development projects are being affected,” said Idress Kamal, director of Citizen Rights and Sustainable Development (CRSD).

“Violence against aid workers is one of the most crucial humanitarian issues today,” said a country security advisor of a UK-based aid organization. “Security threats to NGOs are increasing in Pakistan, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan.”

Security experts believe that NGOs are seen as western propaganda campaigners promoting secular values and modern norms, which contradict the Taliban’s version of Islam.

“Attacks on and abductions of international aid workers have been going on since the rule of the Afghan Taliban and this thing has travelled across the border to FATA based militant groups,” said Abdul Basit, a senior analysts at the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism (ICPVTR).

[box9]He said the recent increase in attacks on polio vaccination teams and national and international aid workers comes in the wake of the involvement of health workers in a CIA campaign to collect blood samples to track down the Bin Laden family living in Abbottabad. “Their kidnappings are for the sake of ransom money and because of suspicions that they are spies or informers of foreign intelligence agencies disguised as aid workers,” Basit said.

Kidnapping is one tool militants use to raise money. Militants looking for large payoffs have been abducting mostly foreign aid workers, wealthy industrialists and academics. The other two key motives behind the abduction of foreign aid workers are media attention and prisoner swaps, according to a source associated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The new wave of violence is causing humanitarian groups to reconsider their presence in Pakistan. In December 2012, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suspended their anti-polio vaccination campaign after nine workers were killed in attacks in Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The ICRC on May 10 announced the suspension of some of its projects after the killing of Dale. Such decisions would deprive local communities of the much needed social services and development initiatives, Pakistani development experts say.

A recent report by the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), an umbrella organization for over 40 NGOs engaged in relief work, states that “from January to September 2012, a reduction of 60 international aid workers was observed across INGOs associated with the PHF”. The reasons, according to them, was not obtaining visas in time.

Various governmental bodies are known to harass aid professionals, restricting their movement and limiting visas, fearing that spies lurk among them. Government officials say they restrict the movement of foreign aid workers for security reasons. “When an international aid worker is injured, killed or abducted in Pakistan, it becomes a humiliation for the government and creates severe problems for law enforcement agencies,” an official in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa home department said. He said that might be a reason behind the reluctance in issuing visas to foreign aid workers.

Many aid organizations have instituted strict security protocols for their staff. For example, aid workers simply do not travel at night, and they stay out of areas that have high risks.