“Around 260,000 children in North and South Waziristan have not been vaccinated against polio since July 2012. Moreover, more than 90 per cent of the current polio cases in the country are linked to the outbreak in North Waziristan and other parts of Fata”
Saira Afzal Tarar
A walk was held in Karachi, Pakistan on 24th October (World Polio Day) to raise awareness of the importance of the polio vaccine and to fight propaganda and misunderstanding. Speaking to DAWN newspaper, Deputy Commissioner Dr Syed Saif-ur-Rehman who led the initiative stated, “the walk that has been organised is part of the exercise and aims at making everyone realise that parents as well as children want to be protected against the crippling disease.”
The Daily Times reported that “the Darul Afta (fatwa council) of Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) has issued a fatwa, saying that the administration of polio drops to children is not forbidden in Islam. It says prominent scholars and experts of the Muslim world are convinced that polio drops do not contain anything that is harmful to health or against sharia.”
Back in December of 2012, I wrote an article on the importance of the vaccine following the targeted killing of polio workers in Pakistan http://activist1.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/pakistan-immran-vaccinates-baby-polio-does-not-discriminate-it-can-attack-any-child/
Problems arose around vaccination programmes when the CIA took an extraordinary and unethical decision to launch a “fake” hepatitis vaccination programme. They acquired the services of Dr Shakil Afridi to access Osama Bin Laden’s compound using the programme as a cover and gather evidence that he was in residence. This was an act which would end in Bin Laden’s assassination by American navy seals and destroy trust in a health initiative.
At that time my aim was to seek clarification from the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) that had earlier banned the vaccination programme in anger at US drone strikes targeting “alleged” insurgents in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). I wrote that “I also condemn the use of drones to target kill which has obliterated families in the Tribal Areas but attacking a vaccination programme only harms more children.” My article was passed to Tribal Areas journalists in contact with TTP appealing for Taliban to reconsider their position as polio does not discriminate and can harm any child including those of Taliban. Those unable to receive the polio drops could suffer from nerve damage, muscle wasting, paralysis of the arms and legs and breathing difficulties which could lead to death.
I then approached an official representative of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan (also the target of drone attacks which have killed children). I sought clarification from Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban appealing for his help. Months went by then I received the following statement dated 13TH May 2013:
Declaration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan regarding the Polio Vaccination
According to the latest international medicine science, the polio disease can only be cured by preventive measures i.e. the anti-polio drops and the vaccination of children against this disease.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan supports and lends a hand to all those programs which works for the health care of the helpless people of our country. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan advises in the existing war situation of the country to the campaigning organizations i.e. WHO and UNICEF to employ unbiased people in the region. The foreign employees should refrain from going to the region and similarly the campaign should be harmonized with the regional conditions, Islamic values and local cultural traditions. In case of compliance with these rudiments, all the associated workers (Mujahidin) of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are directed, not to create any kind of trouble for them, rather they should be provided with all necessary support.
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
My understanding was that Tehrik –e-Taliban (TTP) in Pakistan were following Islamic Emirate line and I note that they denied the more recent attacks on polio workers which suggested another force was at hand. I am now seeking further clarification regarding current TTP position on the polio vaccine in Pakistan.
DAWN reported yesterday that, “the government has decided to include polio vaccination on the agenda of dialogue with the Taliban as 90 per cent of the cases during the current year have been reported from FATA where the militants have banned anti-polio campaigns.”
Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, Saira Afzal Tarar spoke at a press conference on World Polio Day warning that millions could be at risk as people move from polio -endemic areas to other parts of Pakistan, he stated the following;
“if we cannot access children in Waziristan with the crucial polio vaccine during the ongoing low transmission season from November to April, we will not be able to stop polio transmission. This region will then be seen globally as the only hurdle towards a world free of polio”
Meanwhile although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the use of drones at a meeting with President Obama during his visit to US, it appears from Washington that the drone programme which has killed many children will continue. This will be a setback to talks with TTP, voted for unanimously by the All Parties Conference (APC). Taliban want drones to stop for a ceasefire to begin.
A US official was reported in DAWN as saying, “we understand there’s a political consensus on this issue (talks). We have no objection as long as the Taliban are required to accept the Constitution and the rule of law.” However human rights activists see the continuation of drone strike over FATA as an attempt to sabotage efforts for dialogue and call for an end to armed drones aimed at Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
During recent days there have been no less than 5 reports on targeted killing some alleging that drones may be war crimes. The reports include one from Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism and another from Christof Heyns, special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Additional reports come from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch with a further report from Alkarama.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. (She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”)