TTP unlikely to follow Afghan Taliban on anti-polio help

Published May 19, 2013
A child being given polio drops. -File photo
A child being given polio drops. -File photo

PESHAWAR: Pakistani Taliban are unlikely to follow their Afghan counterparts, who recently offered help to their government in carrying out polio campaigns in the country, according to the relevant officials in the provincial capital.

The officials quoted the Afghan Taliban as declaring in a statement issued on May 13 that they supported all programmes, which sought to provide health facilities to the people of the country and that they acknowledged that immunisation was the only way to protect children against polio.

The officials said Pakistani Taliban were in no mood to follow in the footsteps of their Afghan counterparts and continued to block vaccination of children in tribal areas against polio.

The first ban on polio vaccination was seen in Swat when the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan declared administration of oral polio vaccine ‘un-Islamic’ and stopped local residents from giving the said vaccine to children under five.“The ban was slapped in 2008 during the Taliban’s rule. In 2009, Swat district reported 20 polio cases, the highest number in the country that year,” an official said.

According to the officials, the argument given by Pakistani Taliban against polio vaccination is different from that of their Afghan militants.

TTP prohibited OPV on the ground that it was against Islam to take medicine for a disease that had not affected one yet, while Afghan Taliban believed that polio vaccination was designed to render recipients impotent and thus, reducing the population of Muslims in the world.

The ban lost effectiveness after the army flushed Taliban out of Swat by a military operation in 2010 and thus, leading to the resumption of the children’s vaccination against polio.

In the past, Afghan Taliban supreme commander Mullah Omar had issued pro-vaccination statements.

The latest by him states that anti-polio vaccination offered only the treatment of the crippling childhood disease and therefore, all people should ensure administration of polio vaccine to their children.

It adds that the globally-tested vaccine gives protection to children according to medical science and in light of the current wave of lawlessness, it is advised to the government to conduct immunisation drives.

Officials in Federally Administered Tribal Areas said the Taliban in North and South Waziristan agencies had abruptly asked workers of NGOs working against polio to pack up and warned local vaccinators to stay away from administering polio drops to children.

“The reason for polio vaccination ban was that the Taliban thought that vaccinators could be spying on them like Dr Shakil Afridi for his role in the fake hepatitis B vaccination drive to facilitate the US access to Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad,” an official said.

The official, however, said the argument didn’t make sense because the health department was employing local residents for vaccination in their respective areas.

He said Dr Afridi had carried out a fake hepatitis B vaccination drive and had nothing to do with polio and that TTP had linked the lifting of ban on polio vaccination to the halt to the US drone attacks in tribal region.

The official said Afghan Taliban had made it a standard practice that they issued instructions to the health authorities, Unicef and WHO to use impartial local vaccinators in the region.

The officials said more than 200,000 children had been at the risk of being polio sufferers since TTP banned vaccination in June last year despite presence of local vaccinators.

“Afghan Taliban are better than ours. At least they care for children,” an official said, adding that they issued complete plan to the health authorities regarding vaccination.

“For example, Afghan Taliban have asked local authorities to run their campaigns in line with Islamic principles and these conditions are just normal for all Muslims,” he said.

He said only children had been suffering from the TTP ban on vaccination and therefore, it (TTP) should lift the ban by following in the footsteps of Afghan Taliban.

The officials said Swat and Waziristan agencies were the only places in the country, where the Taliban had restricted polio vaccination and that the situation was exploited by the conservative clerics, who began speaking against vaccination in mosques without the Taliban’s support.

They said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where there was no ban on polio vaccination, had been recording more than 750,000 missed children in every immunisation campaign.

The officials said in Fata, over 620,000 children remained unvaccinated during every polio drive.

They said 50,000 more children were not vaccinated against polio in KP and Fata during every campaign due to their parents’ opposition to vaccination.

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