Local Taliban and Pakistani warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur, whose outfit is fighting the western troops in the neighbouring Afghanistan, have imposed the ban on polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan to protest the continuing US drone attacks against militants. They have termed the vaccination campaign as a cover for espionage.
A government health official said the campaign might have to be suspended in North and South Waziristan for there was no clearance from the army. "The situation is not conducive," he said, adding that any attempt to defy the Taliban threats would put their staff in great danger. The Taliban suspicion that the polio campaign would be used as an espionage cover has been strengthened more after Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi helped the CIA track Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination campaign as a cover.
Fawad Khan, health services director in the tribal belt said 1,60,000 children in North Waziristan and 80,000 in South Waziristan would be left at peril if the vaccination programme is not carried out in those areas. He said efforts were underway to reach a settlement with the Taliban but the health workers were yet to get a 'go-ahead' signal.
A senior security official said elder tribal members would take up the matter to find out ways of launching the important campaign. The official said it would not be difficult to vaccinate the children in South Waziristan where the Pakistan Army had fought the Taliban three years ago. "The campaign can be carried out at least in places where the previously displaced people have returned," he said.
Polio remains endemic in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan and last year, the highest number of polio cases (198) were registered in Pakistan in a decade.