A LETTER sent by the Prime Minister’s Polio Eradication Cell to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor on Monday removes the thin cover for all to see reality in its absurd form. The letter requests Governor Masood Kausar to not force but convince the Taliban into lifting a ban on polio vaccination in North Waziristan Agency. The message is evidence of the Taliban’s writ in the agency as it is a sign of desperation on the part of a government whose efforts to protect its children against a crippling menace have been frustrated by all kinds of barriers. The Pakistani Taliban, who link the lifting of the vaccination ban to the cessation of drone strikes, are not the only hurdle anti-polio campaigners face, but they appear to be among the toughest. These militants are not just preventing the children of the area they control from being vaccinated, they pose a genuine danger to the vaccinators themselves.
The letter acknowledges the help of religious leaders and public representatives in forwarding the anti-polio drive. It also expresses disappointment that no headway has been made on this front this year in Fata. In general terms, it gives enough cause for lamenting the lack of awareness among groups of Pakistanis and their insistence on self-destruction arising from their suspicions regarding a crucial vaccine. Yet the call for dialogue with the Taliban has resonance beyond the subject of health. Beyond politics and beyond the recognition of militant power this call expands to a point where several aspects of a wider dialogue crop up. At this moment, though, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has little option but to try out the route that it has suggested in order to have the ban lifted. This is in the interest of the thousands of children that the government seeks to save from the effects of polio.