Taliban target polio vaccination program in Pakistan

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s top spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, claimed credit for the wave of attacks in Pakistan’s northwest as well as in Karachi that targeted aid workers administering polio vaccinations over the past three days. Eight aid workers have been killed thus far, and the United Nations, which is administering the program, has suspended the program.

From Reuters:

Three workers in a polio eradication campaign were shot in Pakistan on Wednesday, and two of them were killed, the latest in an unprecedented string of attacks over the past three days that has partially halted the U.N.-backed campaign.

The United Nations in Pakistan has pulled all staff involved in the campaign off the streets, spokesman Michael Coleman said.

The government said immunization was continuing in some areas without U.N. support although many workers refused to go out. Women health workers held protests in the southern city of Karachi and in the capital, Islamabad.

“We go out and risk our lives to save other people’s children from being permanently handicapped, for what? So that our own children become orphans?” health worker Ambreen Bibi said at the Islamabad protest…

Wednesday saw four separate attacks, all in the north. In the district of Charsadda, men on motorbikes shot dead a woman and her driver, police and health officials said.

Hours earlier, gunmen wounded a male health worker in the nearby provincial capital of Peshawar. He was in critical condition, said a doctor at the Lady Reading Hospital where he is being treated.

Four other women health workers were shot at but not hit in nearby Nowshera, said Jan Baz Afridi, deputy head of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation. Two women health workers were shot at in Dwasaro village in Charsadda, police said…

On Monday and Tuesday, six health workers were killed in attacks in the southern port city of Karachi and in Peshawar. Five were women and the youngest was 17.

Five of the shootings happened in Karachi, home to 18 million people. Health authorities there suspended the polio eradication campaign in the entire province of Sindh.

A few quick points on the attacks:

First, a Pakistani Minister said he “was caught off guard by the violence,” particularly in Karachi, and that “they had not expected attacks in areas far from Taliban strongholds and they would have to change tactics in the health campaign,” Reuters reported.

“We didn’t expect such attacks in Karachi,” said Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, minister for human rights, who oversees the polio campaign. He was referring to the southern commercial hub where there have been attacks this week.

“In far flung areas where the threats are more pronounced, we have been providing polio teams security.”

This is, frankly, ridiculous, as the Taliban and allied jihadist groups have infested Karachi. See this Threat Matrix report for more details on the mess that is Karachi. The Pakistani government itself has identified 25 jihadist groups operating in the city, yet it is shocked that the Taliban might target health workers dispensing polio vaccinations? This would be laughable were it not that people are being killed and children are now going to be further exposed to such a horrific disease.

Second, one would hope that the scope of the recent attacks on the health workers would finally get the Pakistani government to stop making groundless claims that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is in disarray. The attacks have clearly been organized and coordinated to force the program to shut down, and demonstrate that the Taliban’s reach is not merely confined to the backwaters of Pakistan’s tribal areas [again, see this Threat Matrix report for more details].

Third, it isn’t just the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan that opposes polio vaccinations. Influential ‘non-aligned’ Taliban leaders (those who are not members of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan) Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan also have threatened to attack aid workers dispensing polio vaccinations. Their objections to the vaccinations have been over the US drone campaign that kills Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadist operatives and leaders in their tribal areas. This rationale contrasts markedly with the motivations of some foaming-at-the-mouth Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan leaders, like Mullah Fazlullah, who claims the vaccinations are a Jewish plot to sterilize Muslims.

The Taliban are suspected of at least one attack against a polio vaccination worker in Afghanistan as well. In parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban have publicly opposed polio vaccination programs. [For more information, see Threat Matrix report, Attacks kill Afghan officials in Laghman, Nimroz.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Gerald says:

    May all the Taliban be stricken with his disease!

  • mike merlo says:

    more PR & community relations ‘building’ by the Taliban

  • Nic says:

    “Their objections to the vaccinations have been over the US drone campaign that kills Taliban, al Qaeda, and other jihadist operatives and leaders in their tribal areas.” In other words, if you don’t stop the drone attacks, we will let our children get a horrible disease that condemns them to a life of suffering and disfigurement. “Stupid is as stupid does”, Forrest Gump.


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