Taliban officials in Pakistan have banned a polio eradication campaign taking place in South Waziristan in an attempt to force an end to increased US bombing raids in the tribal areas that run along the Afghan border.
Pakistan is one of only three countries left in the world where polio has a significant foothold, but efforts to control the disease have been hampered by local mistrust of medical officials since it was revealed that the CIA fabricated a fake vaccination drive in an attempt to confirm the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
Leaflets distributed on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies, reports The Guardian.
"On the one hand, they are killing innocent children in drone strikes, while on the other hand they are saving their lives by vaccinating them."
"In the garb of these vaccination campaigns, the US and its allies are running their spying networks in Fata which has brought death and destruction on them in the form of drone strikes," the leaflet said.
It also questioned the sincerity of international efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease. "On the one hand, they are killing innocent children in drone strikes, while on the other hand they are saving their lives by vaccinating them," the printed note said.
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“Polio and other foreign-funded vaccination drives in Wana sub division would not be allowed until US drone operations in the agency are stopped,” warned the pamphlet issued by Mullah Nazir, commander of his own faction of the Taliban in South Waziristan.
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The warning is not the first to come from tribal militants since a Pakistani doctor was convicted of assisting the CIA in locating former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by running a fake polio vaccination campaign in Abbottabad last year.
Mullah Nazir’s handout calls the “traitor Dr Shakeel Afridi’s fake campaign in Abbottabad” proof that “infidel forces are using media, education and development as a tool to gag Muslims.”
A ban similar to the one in Wana was imposed earlier in North Waziristan Agency by the Hafiz Gul Bahadar faction of the Taliban, who are alleged by the United States of having close links to Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network.
The Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar groups have remained the prime target of the US drone operations in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), as the US-led coalition forces blame the two groups of harbouring al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters besides sending them across the border into Afghanistan.
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The leaflet raised the case of Shakil Afridi, the frontier doctor who ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign in Abbottabad as cover for a CIA effort to find intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
Afridi, who has since been arrested and jailed by Pakistani authorities, provided important help in the hunt for the US's most wanted man, the former director of the CIA has said.
But humanitarian organisations have been outraged by the use of vaccination as a cover for spying, saying it has entrenched suspicions in the tribal areas about their work.
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