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PESHAWAR, June 20: The federal government has asked the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to try to enter into dialogue with Taliban in North Waziristan Agency to pave the way for vaccination of children.

A letter sent to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor Syed Masood Kausar by Shahnaz Wazir Ali, focal person for polio at the Prime Minister’s Polio Eradication Cell Secretariat, on Monday requested the governor to start talks with Taliban through the political agent of North Waziristan.

A militant group headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadar had announced ban on polio vaccination on Friday in reaction to the drone attacks.

“All the available means must be utilised to ensure that the polio campaigns in the area are not disrupted for the sake of the future of 161,000 children there,” a one-page letter said. It said that the government was extremely concerned about eradicating polio from the country in general and Fata in particular.

The letter titled “Ban on polio campaign in North Waziristan” expressed serious concern over reports regarding Taliban’s ban on polio campaign in North Waziristan and asked the governor to hold dialogue with militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar to save children from becoming handicapped.

“Under your leadership hectic efforts are being made to save the children of Fata from the catastrophic effects of a polio epidemic,” it said, adding that use of polio vaccination as a bargaining chip by the militants was unfortunate and the ban would affect the families and children of North Waziristan.

We are also very much concerned about the safety of frontline polio workers conducting the immunisation campaigns who despite great personal risk, worked with devotion to ensure every child was administered OPV, it said.

This is particularly disappointing as the polio vaccination programme had not made any headway in Fata this year, it said. It claimed that important inroads had recently been made in tribal areas and more measures were required to ensure healthy lives of the children.

The letter appreciated governor’s efforts for setting up permanent transit points, strengthening field monitoring besides establishment of 15 fixed centres in private clinics in Fata. It said that the government had involved religious leaders, parliamentarians and other groups to create demand for vaccination. Reaching and vaccinating all children in Fata, including North Waziristan, was one of the highest priorities of Pakistan’s polio eradication programme, it said, adding that the country had made great progress toward polio eradication this year but setbacks like this (Taliban’s ban) would limit our efforts to reach every child in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, agency surgeon Dr Mohammad Sadiq told Dawn that before Taliban’s announcement, they were able to immunise 144,000 children. “We have divided the entire agency into 74 areas. In 68 areas we vaccinated all the children with only 1,100 refusals while 17,000 children remained inaccessible in six Taliban-controlled areas where children had not been immunised for the past two years.

We had planned a campaign which was supposed to start from today (Wednesday) but was postponed after Taliban’s ban, he said.