MIRAMSHAH: A tribal jirga endorsed a Taliban ban on polio vaccinations on Wednesday, linking the lifting of the ban to the cessation of drone strikes in the region, and consequently closing the door to the prospect of any child being vaccinated in North Waziristan as part of a nationwide campaign.
Officials had pinned their last hopes of inoculating children in North Waziristan on talks with tribesmen, which were successively delayed until Wednesday, the last day of the nationwide campaign.
North Waziristan administrator Siraj Ahmed Khan told The Express Tribune that he had sought to convince the tribesmen to accept the vaccinations for the highly-infectious disease that affects mainly the under-fives and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours. Some cases can be fatal.
“Polio is rampant in tribal areas and the government desires to prevent its spread,” Khan told the meeting. Khan informed the jirga that the campaign was in the interest of the tribal people, adding that funds for development works in North Waziristan could also be affected if the campaign ban was not lifted.
But at the conclusion of negotiations, the jirga linked the immunisation campaign to an end to drone strikes in the tribal areas. “Polio vaccination will be banned until drone attacks are stopped,” tribal elder Qadir Khan told a gathering of more than 120 elders and religious scholars in Miramshah, the main town of North Waziristan.
Tribal elders told Khan that drone strikes were not only a concern for the Taliban, but also for the tribal people. “Drones martyr so many children, while polio afflicts one or two out of hundreds of thousands,” said tribal elder Maamoor Khan.
However, the jirga assured the administrator that vaccination would resume if the government halted strikes, while also agreeing to pass the message to Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who leads the powerful Taliban Shura. Religious scholar Maulana Gull Salim told The Express Tribune that a response from the Taliban could be expected today (Thursday), adding that the grand jirga of North Waziristan would try to resolve the issue through negotiations.
Polio boycott in Frontier Region
Hundreds of tribal people boycotted polio vaccinations in protest against load-shedding in the Drazinda village. Local elders of Sherani tribe held a jirga in Drazinda Bazaar and subsequently decided to kick out polio teams from DI Khan. Tribal elder Malik Yonus Khan told The Express Tribune that locals had no other reservations about the campaign.
The prime minister’s office said that the campaign would be extended until Thursday and Friday in the rest of Pakistan. The Lancet medical journal has said vaccination problems last year led to Pakistan’s highest number of polio cases in a decade, 198, compared to 144 in 2010.
Condemning the campaign as a cover for espionage, militants banned vaccinations in North and South Waziristan, risking the health of 240,000 children. Officials said that a further 110,000 children in Khyber Agency also risked going without the vaccine, because of fighting between government troops and warlord Mangal Bagh.
(Read: Polio and militancy)
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2012.
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