Over 200,000 children in North and South Waziristan will not receive vaccinations for polio this year due to a militant-launched propaganda campaign against vaccination as being a Western plot meant to sterilise our children. The government did little to counter this misinformation and it ended up gaining traction. Then, last year, there was the unfortunate case of Dr Shakil Afridi, who actually carried out a fake vaccination programme in order to collect DNA for the US in its effort to track Osama bin Laden. The damage done by this was profound, as it seemingly confirmed the darkest suspicions about vaccination programmes. Now, militant warlords have banned polio vaccinations in their fiefdoms and there is precious little the government can do about it.
As many mistakes as the government has made, the ultimate blame lies with the militants themselves. Their rejection of modern science and absolute refusal to cooperate in any way with either the government or any Western power has put thousands of children at risk. An entirely preventable disease has once again mushroomed in Pakistan, simply because of ideological fanaticism. To counter this, the government must win the propaganda war. The government must use resources at its own disposal, like Radio Pakistan, to stress the safety and importance of polio vaccinations and provide security to those overseeing the administering of polio vaccination.
The ultimate solution, though, is to constantly be on the offensive against the militants and comprehensively defeat them. On this front, the military has shown a reluctance to take action. It has essentially ceded large swathes of the tribal areas to the militants. Unless the writ of the state is established in these areas, any effort the government makes on the polio vaccination front will be insufficient. The battle we are in is essentially a military one and every humanitarian problem in the region flows from our inability to win, or even fight, this war.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2012.
More in EditorialLong march concerns