polio-AFP670
A child being administered vaccine for polio. – Photo by AP

MIRAMSHAH, July 18: A grand jirga of tribal elders, tasked by the government to persuade militant groups to allow polio vaccination, informed the administration on Wednesday that the ban on immunisation in Waziristan would continue till drone attacks were stopped.

A source privy to the meeting told Dawn that in plain words the pro-government jirga had endorsed the ban imposed by a Taliban group on polio campaign in North Waziristan.

The jirga of tribal elders, ulema and political authorities, held at the Governor’s Circuit House here, discussed ways of resuming polio vaccination in North Waziristan. It was attended by about 300 tribal elders and prominent ulema from across the tribal agency. Prominent among them were Maulvi Salim Gul, Malak Shah Jehan, Malak Nasrullah Khan, Malak Qadar Khan, Malak Mamoor Khan and Malak Amanullah.

Political Agent Siraj Ahmed Khan briefed the jirga on the importance of the campaign. Agency Surgeon Dr Muhammad Sadiq, Assistant Political Agent Shah Tasleem Khan and the local tehsildar were present on the occasion.

Leaders of the jirga told the government functionaries that the ban imposed by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group would continue till the stoppage of drone strikes because innocent people, including children and women, were being killed in such attacks.

However, the jirga stressed the need for continuing dialogue and decided that effort would continue to be made to sort out the issue amicably.

Representing the jirga, Malak Qadir Khan said it was ready to talk to the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s group if a ‘peace committee’ set an appointment with the militants’ leader.

The five-member peace committee was given a mandate by the government as well as tribal elders to mediate with the Taliban and persuade them to lift the ban. The committee includes Khan Faraz, Malak Rais Khan, Malak Haji Sarfaraz and Mufti Sadiqullah.

About 162,000 children in North Waziristan are at the risk of polio because of refusal by tribal people and imposition of the ban by the Taliban group on vaccination.

Malak Mamoor Khan, chief of Turikhel tribe, told the authorities that drone strikes were more dangerous than polio virus because a child rarely died of polio while hundreds of children were being killed by drones.

He showed photographs of children slain and maimed in drone attacks.

The political agent said polio was a deadly disease that couldn’t be treated and an affected child became a life-time burden for the family. He said the government wanted to curb polio virus in the tribal region.

The official urged the jirga to convey the government’s message to ‘estranged tribal people’ (Taliban groups) that protecting children from polio virus was necessary for a healthy generation in the region.

He asked the jirga to cooperate with the government in restoring peace and carrying out development work. He said it was the responsibility of the elders to cooperate in development of the backward region.

The tribal elders offered cooperation to the administration for speeding up development work.

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