PESHAWAR – The killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid following a fake vaccination campaign to track Al-Qaeda leader is casting its shadow over campaigns to vaccinate Pakistanis against polio.
"They (tribesmen) consider us CIA agents, who under the guise of anti-polio campaign, are there to look for other Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders," Gulrez Khan, a Peshawar-based anti-polio worker, told OnIslam.net.
The government and NGOs have launched campaigns to vaccinate residents of north-western Pakistan against polio.
But the campaigns have been resisted by residents, who are worried that the campaigns are only meant to hunt down Taliban tribesmen.
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"It’s been over ten months since the Al-Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden is dead, but his ghost is still haunting our efforts not only to persuade the people in the country’s northwestern parts, particularly in the tribal belt, to get their kids vaccinated, but also to move freely," Khan said.
Bin Laden was killed last year in a unilateral US raid on his compound in Abbotabad near Islamabad.
The Al-Qaeda leader was tracked down by a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who had launched a fake polio vaccination campaign with the help of the CIA.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had confirmed that Dr. Afridi had been working with the CIA and was the one who led the CIA to bin Laden's compound.
The doctor is currently in the Pakistani custody and may face trial under treason charges.
"We have tried our best to convince them (tribesmen) that we have no connection with CIA or the US," Khan said.
"We showed them the official documents in our favor, but only a few trusted us."
Pakistan is one of world countries that are at high risk vis-à-vis polio.
Some 173 polio cases were reported in Pakistan in 2011, of which 69 were reported from Pakistan's tribal areas on border with Afghanistan.
Some 14 cases have so far been reported during last two and a half months of this year in different parts of the country.
Illiteracy and militancy are also adding to the difficulty facing efforts to eradicate polio from the area.
"Even if local people do not resist and harass us, we can operate only in main towns of tribal areas," Tahirullah Khan, another anti-polio vaccinator, told OnIslam.net.
"Beyond that, there is no guarantee to our safety."
Due to fierce fighting between pro-Taliban militants and security forces in almost all the tribal agencies, vaccinators have no access to several far-flung areas.
The seven tribal agencies, Kyber, Mohmind, Orakzai, Kurram, Bajur, South Waziristan, and North Waziristan, and their adjoining areas have already been declared sensitive for anti-polio activists.
Sensing the sensitivity of the issue, the Pakistani government has decided to take Muslim scholars onboard to help convince people to once again.
Ulema conferences to support the ongoing polio vaccination campaign are being held in different parts of the country, particularly in the tribal area, where people give more respect to scholars.
Giving a boost to the anti-polio campaigns, the heads of Jammat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) issued a fatwa declaring it mandatory for the people to get their kids vaccinated.
“It is a must for every Muslim not only to take care of his own health but his or her children as well,” Qari Roohullah Madani, a Peshawar-based scholar told a seminar earlier this month.
“There is no second thought in this regard whatsoever.
“If someone has done something wrong for any reason, those who are sincere and your well wishers, they must not be held responsible for the wrongdoing of any individual,” he said, referring to the doctor involved in the fake polio campaign.
Some 160 scholars belonging to scenic valley of Swat, where anti-polio workers are also facing resistance from local people, have also issued a joint fatwa declaring resistance to anti-polio campaigns as “un-Islamic”.
Vaccinators have been provided the copies of the fatwa to convince locals to take the vaccination.
This is not the first time tribesmen resist government-sponsored anti-polio vaccination campaigns.
In 2005, tribesmen rejected vaccination on the belief that the polio drops sterilize the newborns, and the campaign was aimed at sterilizing the Muslim kids in order to contain their growing population.
But they dropped their resistance after fatwas from Muslim scholars.
“That fatwa (issued by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman of JUI, and Qazi Hussain Ahmed of JI) worked as a magic wand for us (in 2005),” Tahirullah who was part of anti-polio campaign at that time too, recalled.
“Whenever the people (tribesmen) argued with us and dubbed us as part of international conspiracy to sterilize their children, we took the copies of that fatwa out of our bags and showed them. That really worked.“Let’s see what happens this time.”
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