By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has stopped most of its work in Pakistan following the murder of a staff doctor in Quetta, pending a risk assessment of its operations in the country, the agency said on Thursday.
The body of Khalil Rasjed Dale, who ran a health program in the southwestern city of Quetta in the Baluchistan province, was found on April 29 with a note that said the Red Cross's failure to pay ransom was the reason he was killed.
Dale, 60, was abducted by suspected militants on January 5 while on his way home from work.
"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," Jacques de Maio, head of ICRC operations for South Asia, said in a statement.
It has already condemned the murder of Dale, who had worked in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq for the organization.
The neutral humanitarian agency, which rarely suspends its work even in war zones, was providing mainly health and physical rehabilitation for victims of violence and natural disasters in Pakistan, many of whom have lost limbs.
The suspension in three of the country's four provinces affects hundreds of thousands of people, spokesman Christian Cardon said in Geneva.
The ICRC suspended its aid work in Baluchistan when Dale's beheaded body was found. Its activities in the southwestern province, which includes Quetta, had been limited since his kidnapping, with only two staff deployed there.
"The suspension of our activities now extends to the office in Peshawar, our largest in Pakistan, and activities in Karachi," Cardon told Reuters.
"The decision will be taken following a thorough review in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including national authorities at different levels in the country," he said.
The agency normally deploys about 500 national staff and 50 expatriates in the three provinces.
"We are painfully aware that these measures are having a severe and far-reaching impact on wounded, sick, physically disabled and other vulnerable people," Paul Castella, the head of the ICRC delegation in Pakistan, said in the statement.
Dale is the third Westerner to be beheaded by militants in Pakistan. The others include Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 and Piotr Stanczak, a Polish geologist, in 2009.
A senior police officer said when Dale's body was recovered that the Pakistan Taliban had claimed responsibility for the killing, saying a ransom had not been paid.
The Pakistan Taliban have been fighting a bloody insurgency against the Pakistani state since the group was formed 2007. It is close to al Qaeda and it claimed credit for a failed car bomb attempt in New York's Times Square in May 2010.
Pro-Taliban militants are also active in Baluchistan, which shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran.
(Additional reporting and writing by Chris Allbritton in Dubai; Editing by Louise Ireland)