PESHAWAR: Despite serious attempts made by the international donors, Pakistani authorities have failed to help more than 240,000 kids in the tribal agencies of North Waziristan and South Waziristan and remaining parts of Fata to get anti-polio vaccines during the three-day National Immunization Days (NIDs) launched on Monday throughout the country.
In North Waziristan and South Waziristan, the regional Taliban groups have imposed ban on anti-polio immunization campaign as a mark of protest against US drone attacks. Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is the Taliban chief in North Waziristan, banned anti-polio vaccination campaign on June 16 until a halt to the drone strikes.
Around 160, 000 kids couldn’t be vaccinated during the first day of the campaign. Similar is the case in South Waziristan where the Maulvi Nazeer-led Taliban banned the anti-polio campaign and warned they would not allow polio teams to vaccinate kids until the US drone strikes are stopped.
In South Waziristan, 80,000 kids could not receive anti-polio drops on Monday. The Taliban argued they had taken the decision in the larger interest of the tribespeople, particularly children. Both the commanders are considered pro-Pakistan as the government has signed peace accords with them and allowed them to operate in their respective areas.
After banning anti-polio campaign, the Taliban groups warned the health department and political administration of their respective tribal regions to refrain from sending polio teams to vaccinate children in their areas of control otherwise they would not be responsible for their security.
It was apparently due to threats from the Taliban groups that the health department could not send their teams to villages to immunize children during the first day of the nationwide campaign.
The government had earlier set a target of 1.06 million children in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to be vaccinated during the three-day campaign but it dropped to 754,000 on Monday when officials of the Fata health department briefed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Masood Kausar about their efforts to combat the disease in the tribal areas.
It meant government officials had already made up their mind that they would not be able to reach around 300,000 children in Fata. Besides North Waziristan and South Waziristan, where one polio case each has been reported this year, the government was unable to reach out to hundreds of children in parts of Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, Mohmand and Bajaur tribal regions due to poor security measures and lack of writ of the state.
The situation in Khyber Agency is said to be the worst as out of 23 polio cases reported this year in Pakistan nine were detected in Khyber. Some government officials said teams were sent to Srarogha tehsil in South Waziristan inhabited by the Mahsud tribe to administer anti-polio drops, but there was no campaign in the Ahmazai Wazir-populated areas such as Wana, Shakai and Azam Warsak.
There were also reports that the government had started back-door negotiations with the Taliban leaders through senior clerics and officials of the political administration. Pleading anonymity, a government official claimed the Taliban had now stopped demanding halt in drone strikes as their condition for anti-polio campaign, saying they were asking the government to strengthen and upgrade the existing health facilities in their areas.
The federal government has conveyed its concern to the Governor Masood Kausar over the Taliban ban and urged him to initiate dialogue with the militant group and resume the anti-polio campaign.
Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Programme in Islamabad, had sent a letter to the governor urging him to use his influence and make all possible efforts to resume the anti-polio campaign.
“Pakistan has made great progress toward polio eradication this year and setbacks like these will limit our efforts to reach every child in Pakistan,” Shahnaz Wazir Ali stated in the letter. Ahmadullah Ahmadi, the spokesman for NWA Taliban, a few days ago ruled out any talks with the government about the ban on polio campaign.
Dr Mohammad Rafiq, UNICEF’s focal person for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), said polio is still a big problem in Pakistan, saying all segments of society would need to get united for eliminating this virus.
“If one polio case is diagnosed that means the virus is existing in 200 other houses of the neighbourhood,” he told The News. Pakistan is among the three countries where polio virus still exists. The two are war-ravaged Afghanistan and Nigeria.