Our story that Save the Children flew eight expatriate aid workers out of Pakistan in July for fear that they could have been arrested by Inter-Services Intelligence is a classic example of a term the CIA itself invented: blowback. As we reported in July, the CIA organised a fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad in an attempt to obtain DNA from Osama bin Laden’s family to prove their target was definitely there.The Pakistani doctor they used to mount the fake programme, Shakil Afridi, participated in two health-worker training courses run by Save the Children in 2008 and 2010. Under interrogation, Afridi said he told his wife he was working for Save the Children when he was working for the CIA. The ISI then turned their attentions to a major western aid organisation which has no connection either to the doctor or to the fake vaccination programme in Abbottabad, but which helped 7 million people in Pakistan last year, half of whom were caught up in the floods. It might be argued that the means justified the end, that the CIA had to make every effort to find out whether Bin Laden was in that compound, before the US raid. But it cannot be denied that the collateral damage of using aid workers as spies is enormous. Most of Save the Children’s workers – 2,000 of them in Pakistan – are locally hired staff doing brave work in war zones such as the Swat valley.Using aid agencies as cover for intelligence operations is not only deeply cynical. It is dangerous. It endangers the lives of thousands of aid workers who cannot escape or be flown out of the country at a moment’s notice as the eight expats were. In Pakistan’s case, the anger generated by drone attacks and the CIA’s covert operations fills the coffers of the Taliban. When Imran Khan says that his is the “only country in history which keeps on getting bombed, through drone attacks, by our ally”, and that 35,000 people have been killed in a war that has nothing to do with them, he is surely expressing the feelings of more than just his party. It is hard to find a quicker way to subvert the good that aid does than to militarise it.Caught between the Taliban and the CIA, international aid agencies in Pakistan are being asked to do an impossible job. They are working under incredible pressure. It is, however, also incumbent on them to jealously guard their independence and their neutrality, and not to be seen as another arm of western power. This is not just a matter of where they get their funds from. The gold standard in Pakistan is set by the ICRC and MSF, who have been battling with military authorities to gain access to war zones while operations are still being conducted. Aid agencies not only have to work on their terms. They have to be seen to be doing so.