MIRAMSHAH, June 16: The Taliban have linked the anti-polio campaign in North Waziristan to cessation of US drone attacks.

“After consultation with the Taliban Shura, servant of Mujahideen in North Waziristan Agency Hafiz Gul Bahadur has decided that there will be a ban on polio campaign as long as drone strikes are not stopped,” said a press release issued on Saturday.

Officials said the warning would deprive about 140,000 children of anti-polio drops in North Waziristan, which had already been declared a high-risk area for the crippling disease.

“This warning is a serious blow to the anti-polio drive in the volatile area where the situation is already not encouraging,” a member of an international group working for eliminating polio from the region told Dawn in Peshawar.

Sources said residents of 17 villages had already boycotted the anti-polio drive in North Waziristan and people in Derpakhel Sarai area, near Miramshah, had snatched kits from health workers and destroyed vaccines.

“What will be the benefit of such well-wishers who, on the one hand, are spending billions of rupees on eradication of polio and, on the other, they (Americans) in connivance with their slave (Pakistan) are carrying out drone attacks,” the Taliban Shura said.

The US has intensified drone attacks on suspected targets in North and South Waziristan and claimed to have killed Al Qaeda number two Abu Yahya al Libi in a strike on a compound near Mirali early this month.  Gul Bahadur argued in his statement that polio affected one person in millions while drone strikes killed a large number of innocent women, children and elders. The attacks, he added, had made people mentally sick, a problem more dangerous than even polio.

Another risk involved in anti-polio drives, the statement said, was that the US could use such campaigns for spying. It cited the case of Dr Shakeel Afridi who was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign for the CIA in Abbottabad to collect DNA samples of members of Osama bin Laden’s family.