Pakistan is one of the four countries where polio cases still emerge, with three other being Afghanistan, Nigeria and Chad. Other countries together spend billions of dollars each year on polio vaccinations, as the disease can be prevented by administering drops to children below five years of age.
There are multiple factors that are contributing in exacerbating the situation in Pakistan. It is a fact that Pakistan’s government does not enjoy authority over a majority of semi-autonomous tribal regions. Terrorists linked to al-Qaida and militants of different Taliban factions, in fact, have control of the region. They believe that the polio drop administration to children is just a ploy of the United States, as the country under the garb of the campaign do espionage of the tribal area. They also feel that under the garb of campaign the polio teams actually work out to cultivate their sources in the tribal people and later use them to spy for the US.
This time al-Qaida has announced a blanket ban on the anti-polio vaccination campaign in the tribal region and even threatened to target the teams if they dare to enter the area. An anti-polio vaccination team was also recently targeted in Karachi to disseminate the message to the relevant authorities. However, Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Masood Kausar still claimed on Wednesday that most of Taliban are in favor of polio campaign. He said that polio cases are rampant only in those areas where the literacy ratio is low. The tribal region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan and is thickly populated by different tribes of Pashtuns is infested with low literacy rate. Opportunities for basic education are almost non-existent, let alone modern education.
What did make Taliban ban the polio vaccination campaign in the tribal area? A Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, ran a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad last year to locate the world’s most notorious terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, and collect his DNA sample. Later, the information was handed over to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and on basis of the information the US Navy Seals carried out a sting operation and killed Bin Laden. So, Taliban now suspect every polio campaigner is an agent of CIA and do not want to let them enter the region for polio drops administration to children. The government should put its best to coax Taliban for the much-needed polio drops administration in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA).