PERTH: Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has sought the international community’s help to shift three million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan back to Afghanistan in order to curb illegal cross-border movement, and to help Islamabad prevent the spread of polio.
“They (Afghan refugees) need to return … the relief centres have to be in Afghanistan,” Gilani said while addressing a joint conference at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHGM) with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Saturday.
Gillard invited a select group of heads of state and government from countries where polio is still prevalent, along with those who are funding campaigns for the eradication of the crippling disease.
Pakistan managed to eliminate the disease but it had resurfaced in the past seven years, with 132 new cases being reported, Premier Gilani said. “The situation is unacceptable,” he said. “We launched a national emergency action plan for polio eradication and to interrupt the transmission of the virus in Pakistan by the end of 2011.”
Attributing the resurfacing of polio to cross-border movement, he said it was difficult to administer vaccination to children living in camps and villages in the “inhospitable” terrain along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
It’s difficult for Pakistan to monitor illegal movement along the over 2,000 kilometres-long border with Afghanistan and that’s what is preventing Pakistan from eradicating the disease completely.
Over 40,000 people cross the Pak-Afghan border daily. Polio remains endemic in four countries, three of which are members of the Commonwealth – India, Nigeria – Pakistan, besides Afghanistan.
Gilani also pointed towards the influence of extremist elements in these areas who he said were preventing the administration of the vaccine. The Pakistani government is seeking help from religious scholars in order to convince the “fanatics” about the importance of vaccine, he said.
Pakistan is launching a three-day campaign every three months to administer anti-polio drops to 33 million children across the country, Gilani said, adding that the government was committed to the cause and had designated Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, daughter of President Asif Ali Zardari, as the goodwill ambassador.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2011.