Every time one of these attacks occurs, state officials denounce it and give the customary assurances that the offenders would be “dealt with.” But the truth is that our police departments have made significant sacrifices to protect polio campaigns.
Two police officers who were escorting a polio vaccination team in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa perished in yet another incident. They were shot and slain by unidentified gunmen near Kot Azam in the Tank neighbourhood. The current effort to eradicate polio appears to be in danger, as vaccine targets may not be fully met due to refusals. Again, the attack and casualties need a revision of the security protocols for polio teams.
The polio campaign has suffered greatly this year; after the nation reported its first case of the disease in 15 months in April, there have since been 14 further cases reported there. One small region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is where all of these occurrences occur. The situation is improved in urban areas, but in rural Bannu, D I Khan, Karak, Tank, and Waziristan districts, there are many refusals and numerous communities in these regions have had attacks on polio teams.
If the government fails to bring peace to the former tribal areas, people there have threatened to boycott the polio vaccine programme, according to Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Maulana Abdul Shakoor. To put it mildly, this statement from a serving federal minister is disheartening and reckless. All parties must give the anti-polio campaign its full support, but especially government ministers. Any discussion of boycotting the campaign is equivalent to expressing disapproval of the government, of which the minister is a member.
Since the minister is a member of the JUI-F, it also demonstrates that our religious leadership does not comprehend the importance and urgency of the campaign. It goes without saying that the government is responsible for restoring peace, but it is unwise and inappropriate to equate this with the polio campaign. Pakistan’s polio situation is deteriorating quickly, so the KP government needs to come up with a plan for boosting awareness.
Every time one of these attacks occurs, state officials denounce it and give the customary assurances that the offenders would be “dealt with.” But the truth is that our police departments have made significant sacrifices to protect polio campaigns. The police in Pakistan, who are forced to guard politicians, accompany polio workers, and operate checkpoints, deserve better. The police are frequently attacked themselves because they stand for the security state. We as a society are so accustomed to hearing about police casualties in attacks that we rarely consider the physiological toll it must be having on the force, the majority of whom are barely making ends meet.
The battle against polio just must be won for them, and more importantly for the nation’s children. We have no option in this. Pakistan must spend three straight years without recording even one case of polio in order for it to be deemed polio-free. Despite all the advancements, we are still a long way from achieving that figure. Because of how quickly polio spreads, if every child is not immunised, the following year will have more confirmed cases than the year before. Polio cannot be eradicated; otherwise, the destinies of our children are doomed.