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Karachi

Zia Ur Rehman
December 8, 2017

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Martyred in global drive to protect children against diseases, forgotten by authorities

Martyred in global drive to protect children against diseases, forgotten by authorities

Sikandar Azam is satisfied with an anti-terrorism court’s (ATC) Wednesday verdict sentencing Taliban militant Afsar Khan to death for killing his brother Umer Farooq who was a polio vaccinator in Gadap’s UC-4, a terrorist stronghold and a high-risk neighbourhood for polio.


Farooq, a resident of Deluxe Town in Sohrab Goth and a former progressive student leader, was associated with a polio immunisation campaign for six months, supervising local vaccinators and winning over the area’s residents, most of whom were from his own Mehsud tribe who were moved there after they were displaced from South Waziristan because of a military operation against terrorists.


On December 17, 2012, militants associated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), killed Farooq in Khadim Solangi Goth while he was returning home on a motorcycle after carrying out his duties on the first day of a three-day polio immunisation campaign. He was 28 and unmarried when he was murdered.


His brother Azam said Farooq knew the importance of polio vaccination and wanted to ensure that children, especially from the Pashtun community, were properly vaccinated. “Despite the threats, Farooq was performing his duties. In fact, he was martyred in the global campaign to protect children against diseases,” Azam told The News.


On Wednesday, an ATC, after recording evidence of witnesses and concluding arguments from both sides, convicted TTP militant Khan for Farooq’s assassination and sentenced him to death. Police had arrested Khan in another case from Mehmoodabad in 2013, and during interrogation he confessed to his involvement in Farooq’s murder.


“After almost five years we got justice. We are satisfied with the verdict,” Azam said, confirming that Khan was behind the slaying of his brother.


Tribal elders familiar with the Taliban network in Sohrab Goth also confirmed that Khan was part of the TTP’s local organisation that carried out attacks on polio vaccinators. They said that in 2012 the TTP was strong in Sohrab Goth and other adjacent localities, where the outfit’s key leaders were hiding.


“One of the main reasons behind the attack on polio vaccinators, including Farooq, was the fear of Taliban militants who thought that law enforcement agencies, under the guise of polio vaccinators, were trying to find out their hideouts,” said a Mehsud tribal elder.


A number of polio vaccinators who worked in that area in the past also confirmed that polio vaccinators and police personnel deployed for their security used to ask unnecessary questions from the families in Sohrab Goth.


“For instance, they ask specifically about the recent migrant Mehsud families from South Waziristan,” said the elder, adding that irresponsible attitude of polio vaccinators also provoked attacks on them.


Officials in international organisations working on polio eradication also confirmed it and said Gadap’s UC-4 was very sensitive for two reasons. “First, for security reasons because of heavy TTP presence until the near past,” said one of the officials, “and second, the area is one of the 10 high-risk areas identified for consistent presence of the polio virus.”


He said that a significant number of internally displaced persons and Afghan refugees also lived there, where they sometimes refused to get their children vaccinated. On Tuesday, a five-month-old boy from an Afghan refugee family living in Gadap’s UC-4 was confirmed as a polio victim.


However, after the crackdown on violent groups in the metropolis started in September 2013, the TTP has been weakened because most of its commanders and militants have been killed in shootouts or arrested. “After that, attacks on polio vaccinators in the city have stopped,” said the official.


The ATC also directed Khan to pay a compensation of Rs200,000 to Farooq’s legal heirs. However, Farooq’s family expressed anger for the Sindh government, which had announced that it would compensate and provide a government job to the deceased’s legal heirs but, they said, they had received no payment.


At the Sindh Chief Minister House, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari had met Farooq’s parents and offered a government job to one of the heirs.“After the Sindh government’s announcement, as an heir of Farooq, I applied for a government job and the then Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah also put his remarks on my application. But I am yet to get this job,” lamented Azam.

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