AS we get tired of the intense drama being played out on the national stage and look away in the hope of some relief, what do we see? Hafiz Gul Bahadur issuing a decree banning polio vaccination in the North Waziristan Agency. The militant is considered one of the ‘good’ Pakistani Taliban, a pro-army commander with whom the authorities have cut many deals. By banning polio vaccination and linking its resumption to the cessation of US drone strikes, he now imperils some 140,000 children in the area he controls. What is left to be said when children are used as pawns in a game they are unlikely to understand? This is not only evident in the case of the ban but also in the CIA-sponsored fake vaccination campaign that was carried out by Dr Shakil Afridi in Abbottabad to verify Osama bin Laden’s presence there. While a direct link has yet to be established between that operation and the reluctance of people in the tribal areas to have their children vaccinated in its wake, the number of cases in which parents have refused polio drops for their offspring has been on the rise. Such unwillingness on the part of the parents will only serve to enhance the effectiveness of the propaganda tool in the hands of the militants, especially with Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s declaration that the CIA is known to use polio vaccinators as spies.
In an area where polio is endemic, vaccination has now stopped and there are reports that kits have been snatched and destroyed, and many villages have decided against vaccinating their children. Where is the state in all this? Has it abdicated all responsibility? Will its obsession to remain onside with forces it feels are vital to its national security objectives weigh heavier in its decisions than its duty towards its children? We wish we knew.