PESHAWAR, July 16: Although a nationwide anti-polio campaign was launched on Monday, the authorities were yet to convince the Taliban shura on the importance of getting children of North and South Waziristan vaccinated against the debilitating disease.
According to sources, the political agent of North Waziristan has convened a jirga of local ulema and notables on Tuesday to find a solution to the problem posed by the Taliban vaccination ban that has deprived about 318,000 children of getting polio drops in the two agencies.
Officials of the Fata health directorate in Peshawar said the spillover effect of the ban was already being felt in parts of Orakzai and Khyber agencies and Frontier regions of Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan.
“We are unable to undertake polio campaign in the Tirah valley of Khyber Agency which is under the control of Mangal Bagh-led Lashkar-i-Islam,” said an official.
Commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who leads the powerful Taliban Shura, had banned the anti-polio drive in North Waziristan on June 16 and said that children would not take polio drops unless the government stopped drone strikes in the area.
He was followed by Commander Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and other militant commanders in FRs D.I. Khan and Kohat.
In South Waziristan, the ban is much stricter because it prohibits vaccination against all eight childhood diseases, including polio.
“We have asked health workers to be careful and don’t put their lives at risk,” the official said, adding that they were waiting for the government’s response.
He said the military operation in Orakzai and Khyber agencies was one of the factors which deprived children of the much needed vaccines.
The political authorities in both the agencies had been instructed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor last month to hold talks with Taliban to pave way for resumption of polio vaccination.
Officials said that Fata, which had recorded 11 or 50 per cent of the country’s 22 polio cases in 2012, had been declared by the World Health Organisation a potential threat to countries declared polio-free.
According to sources privy to a meeting recently held at the Governor’s House in Peshawar, the political agent of North Waziristan had told Governor Masood Kausar that Taliban were not ready to soften their stance.
Clerics and elders in Wana, South Waziristan, have said they are helpless and not in a position to go against the Taliban.
Maulana Mirza Jan, head of the Ulema Shura in Wana subdivision, told Dawn in Peshawar that Mullah Nazir would not take any step unless Hafiz Gul Bahadur withdrew the vaccination ban in North Waziristan.
“We have advised the political agent to persuade Gul Bahadur. If he (Bahadur) lifts the ban then Mullah Nazir will follow him because all Taliban commanders and factions were under the control of Gul Bahadur,” he said.
AFP adds: Fawad Khan, director of health services in the tribal belt, said that at least 160,000 children in North Waziristan and 80,000 in South Waziristan would be affected if polio drops were not administered.
Pakistan says 34 million children under five will be targeted in the three-day polio immunisation campaign from Monday to Wednesday.
The prime minister’s office said 22 vaccination points had been set up on the Afghan-Pakistan border, but expected that a “substantial proportion” of children in Bara, South and North Waziristan, would not be accessed.
The Lancet medical journal has said vaccination problems led last year to Pakistan’s highest number of polio cases in a decade, 198, compared to 144 in 2010.
It may be mentioned that polio remains endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.