Blame game: Washington blamed for ruining anti-polio effort

Published: July 30, 2012

Sherry, Shahnaz say use of Dr Afridi in phony vaccination drive hurt UN-backed campaign. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD

ISLAMABAD: 

Even though Pakistan is closer than ever to polio eradication, it has now held the US responsible for hampering its efforts to purge the debilitating disease from the country, saying US activities, specifically the spy hunt for Osama bin Laden, have hurt the UN-backed anti-polio campaign.

The anti-polio campaign suffered a blow earlier this month when a Taliban ban on polio vaccinations put 240,000 children at risk in North and South Waziristan. Following the unsuccessful inoculation campaign, a series of statements by Pakistani officials have chosen to declare that the prime fault for this loss is the US, who used the polio campaign’s face and a Pakistani surgeon as tools to assist their covert operation in Pakistan, discrediting health promotion activities in the country.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman also expressed great concern about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s use of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi to help find bin Laden. She said his actions had endangered the lives of health workers in Pakistan, and put thousands of children at risk of contracting the polio virus.

“Afridi’s actions have seriously jeopardised Pakistan’s efforts to fight diseases, particularly polio among children,” said Rehman when quizzed by US senators about Dr Shakeel Afridi’s imprisonment. Rehman went on to add that fears had crept in amongst tribal elders that the polio campaign might again be used to covertly trace and eliminate Taliban leaders.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister and National Focal Person on Polio Eradication Shahnaz Wazir Ali also endorsed Rehman’s statement, saying the US was directly responsible for problems that were hindering the vaccination drive in the country.

“It was criminal and condemnable on part of the CIA which is part of the US administration, using a health immunisation move for a secret spy operation without thinking about the consequences that are going to be faced by Pakistani children,” Wazir said.

Wazir also criticised US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who titled the fake campaign run by Dr Afridi, since blood sampling and DNA were not a part of the polio immunisation campaign.

“I am unable to understand how Mr Panetta could do this without having appropriate information regarding a health move … and even if he had used the title of some other health drive, it would be equally deplorable. He (Panetta) has no idea what this mistake has brought to the Pakistani children,” said Wazir.

Official figures released by the health department revealed that almost 350,000 children missed the inoculation campaign held this month, specifically in North, South Waziristan and Khyber Agency where polio teams were given a clear message to stay out.

Be that as it may, polio teams drew up a strategy which entailed fire-walling the tribal agencies with transit teams at the entry and exit points to administer polio drops to all children entering and exiting the areas, which significantly dropped the number of children at risk to 150,000. But officials are still not confident in drawing down the polio virus in an expeditious manner from the region.

“The immunisation campaign was postponed in North and South Waziristan and Bara of Khyber agency but later through permanent counters dedicated to 24-hour polio vaccination service at points of entry to the tribal region, we were able to get the figure down,” said Mazhar Nisar, an official at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.

Earlier, local Taliban and warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur banned polio vaccinations in the northwestern tribal region of Waziristan to protest against US drone attacks. Subsequently, Mullah Nazir of South Waziristan and tribal elders followed suit on June 26.

The Taliban leadership believes that drone strikes were killing and psychologically affecting more children than polio. Only 14 new polio cases surfaced last year in North Waziristan, while US drone strikes killed over 250 people.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2012.

Reader Comments (27)

  • mkz
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:02PM

    Well I agree with at least one thing Sherry Rehman has said

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  • nasisr
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:12PM

    We are the nation who is ready to cripple our own children. Ms. Rheman, please decide once for all are we with Taliban or US. Do not sacrifice our own children for this confusion. Who is loosing US or us? Decide, decide, decide

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  • Ikra
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:16PM

    ” Only 14 new polio cases surfaced last year in North Waziristan, while US drone strikes killed over 250 people” This is hundred percent correct. Pakistan is suffering and will suffer because of US cheap and inhumane strategies. Pity on our government that just for the sake of dollars they are sacrificing 100′s of life. Let their kids be killed in such attacks and then they will realize how does it feels. Such a shame !

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  • Mj
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:33PM

    Rejection of polio vaccines has been an issue for quite some time even before Shakeel Afridi debacle. Blame the mullahs who have given fatwas against polio vaccination in Pakistan and Nigeria. Is it any surprise then that these are the only places where polio still exists?

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  • Imran Haider
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:35PM

    [Sarcasm starts] Actually, the U.S. committed a bigger fault. It killed Osama Bin Laden. [Sarcasm ends]

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  • Indi-Pop
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:35PM

    Everyone except Pakistan itself is responsible for all of Pakistani problems.

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  • Hella
    Jul 30, 2012 - 5:41PM

    Pakistan is the only country in the world which does not have any control on its own destiny and well-being. All other nations in the world are proud and independent. However Pakistan is controlled by U.S.A., U.K., China, Israel and above all by India and Afghanistan. That is why it is only fair that these countries are to be blamed for all that goes wrong in Pakistan.

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  • Prakash
    Jul 30, 2012 - 6:11PM

    Clearly a case of barking up the wrong tree. Sherry would do better to blame the real culprits, the Taliban, for not allowing the vaccination to reach the children.

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  • Selvam
    Jul 30, 2012 - 6:38PM

    Next the US will be blamed for bad Pakistani weather or earthquakes.

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  • Dushmann
    Jul 30, 2012 - 7:08PM

    Excuses excuses.
    Pakistan should thank Americans for providing such a nice excuse.

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  • Pakistani
    Jul 30, 2012 - 7:12PM

    Rhetoric apart, all concerned agencies and people feel that the Polio campaign suffered because of the incident.
    US Is partially responsible for problems
    that are hindering the vaccination
    drive in the country now.

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  • Maulana
    Jul 30, 2012 - 7:15PM

    Lets keep blaming:
    – India for Balochistan unrest.
    – Afghanistan for terrorist attacks
    – US for bad economy
    – Israel for global war on Islam.
    and so on.

    We are the purest breed in the world and the way Allah envisioned human race to be. When will our leadership and our people will wake up to reality ???

    At the start of anti-polio campaign, India was considered the hardest and the last place from where the polio will be eradicated. Even they have not reported a single case since last 1 year. The reason they focussed on eradicating polio rather then blaming us, USA or china and other countries for their woes.
    Guys we need to wake up now, rather then making all kind of excuses. Dont Sherry Rehman knows that IHO can impose travel ban if we are not polio free soon. Why would she care, she is already in USA.

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  • Basit
    Jul 30, 2012 - 7:25PM

    @nasisr:
    The only confusion is with liberals who think they need to be with US instead of people of Pakistan.

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  • Thoughtful
    Jul 30, 2012 - 7:36PM

    So its the fault of the US? Have not heard Sherry denounce the Taliban or the tribal elders. When the country’s writ depends on medieval tribal leaders tis a sorry state.

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  • Cautious
    Jul 30, 2012 - 8:46PM

    I suppose ignorant religious fanatics who control your tribal territories have nothing to do with stopping polio immunization, destroying girls schools, and other nefarious knuckle dragging activities? Classic Pakistan — when confronted with a problem you can always blame it on foreigners.

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  • FactCheck
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:03PM

    Nothing new there is it? All of Pakistan’s problems are due to India (1), US (2) and Israel (3). If it weren’t for the three Pakistan will be the only paradise on earth.

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  • FactCheck
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:04PM

    @Ikra:

    But your government agreed to drone strikes since they cannot move the army because of big bad India to east.

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  • FactCheck
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:07PM

    @Maulana:

    Waking up sooner would be better for all concerned. Would it happen? Even God doesn’t know!

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  • FactCheck
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:11PM

    “Taliban ban on polio vaccinations put 240,000 children”. Evidence Taliban is still control large portions of Pakistan.

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  • Nasir
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:20PM

    @basit Who are Pakistani’s. Those who are supporting WHO sponsored vaccination programme or the people who are against it and like to put the children at risk. That is a confusion………..

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  • Cautious
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:37PM

    You don’t control the tribal territories — that’s why the Taliban have veto rights over polio vaccinations — maybe your Ambassador should focus on that rather than trying to blame America?

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  • Shahid
    Jul 30, 2012 - 9:55PM

    Washington should issue just a single statement from Saudi Arabia, that in case of further eruption of polio in Pakistan, it ll ban Pakistanis visit to holy sites, over there, for pilgrimage, then see the impact! All mullahs ll issue fatwa in favour of polio vaccination.Recommend

  • Extra-ordinary villager
    Jul 30, 2012 - 10:01PM

    im suprised these indians have so much time to read each news story in Pakistani newspapers and then leave comments on it.Recommend

  • Imran Con
    Jul 30, 2012 - 11:43PM

    If they weren’t blaming the US or anyone else by name, they still wouldn’t be taking the responsibility for their own people. It would be the good old vague “foreign hands.”

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  • Umar
    Jul 31, 2012 - 1:27AM

    These people can kill anybody they won’t. US is a terror state who is standing for evil interesst. Today they have crossed all their limits. US may have this ide ”Lets kill all the pakistani children before they grow up and kill us” USA is a cheap country we all know that. We muslims who are living in West know how they are killing our innoccent brother and sisters insha’allah they will be judged by our lord! Allahu Akbar

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  • gp65
    Jul 31, 2012 - 3:08AM

    Per this OpEd in ET itself, “http://tribune.com.pk/story/414962/losing-war-against-polio-to-counter-insurgency/
    Last year was the worst for Pakistan in a decade, as 198 polio cases were reported due to a myriad of inoculation problems caused by a negative perception of the vaccine”.
    At that time the Shakil Afridi issue did not exists. The negative perception of polio had to do with the conspiracy theory spread among Muslims for the past 5-6 years (Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India were impacted) that polio vaccines were part of a Western plot to reduce fertility of Muslims. India countered this perception aggressively with the support of prayer leaders in mosques and using Muslim lady health workers campaign door to door. As a result after Jan 2011 there has been not a single case of polio. Pakistan could have been in the same situation if it had countered this pereception with the same determination as India. Shakil Afridi’s antics would then not matered to the polio elimination campaign. Even India was clearly amongst the latest countries to free itself from polio. NEpal and Bangladesh reached that milestone prior to India.

    Instead of recognizing gaps in health delivery, Sherri is choosing to blame US. How will this help Pakistanis?

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  • FactCheck
    Jul 31, 2012 - 1:26PM

    @Umar:

    ” We muslims who are living in West know how they are killing our innoccent brother and sisters insha’allah they will be judged by our lord! Allahu Akbar”

    Two questions:

    Why are we muslims living in the west, especially US if US is cheap and west is morally bankrupt as some of you muslims claim?

    More muslims are killed by other muslims daily all over the world, why?

    While you seem to claim all muslims are equal, the truth is they are not. There is more dislike between different factions of muslims than any other religion.

    Most irrational, illogical group of people on the planet, you talk through both sides of your mouth which is the reason no one trusts you. (Only exception is Turkey)

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