Drones: Pakistan’s polio “problem” cannot be addressed unless drone strikes stop

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“Drones and so called war against terror is itself a disease”

I awoke this morning to hear that 11 polio workers that were kidnapped two days ago by militants and had been moved to an area controlled by militant leader Mangal Bagh and his Taliban-affiliated group, Lashkar-e-Islam had been released by intervention of a jirga and appeals from human rights activists. This time I did not anticipate the workers being physically harmed but that there would be a message attached to the kidnapping. There is a message, “a tribal elder, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants freed the teachers on condition the government stop sending polio teams to the area” (Reuters)

At this point I do not think its fair or possible to keep sending traumatized workers to deliver vaccines to the community in volatile areas unless there are significant changes that could open the door for meaningful dialogue.

Stopping drones strikes is a matter of urgency and crucial as a key step towards addressing difficulties faced in carrying out the vaccination programme in Pakistan, not least the kidnapping and sometimes killing of health workers as well as practicalities of administering the vaccine. Many outside Pakistan will not understand the connections between drones and polio and may be misinformed by some media and and aid agencies and that is part of the problem.

I have written several articles on polio and in previous articles addressed the appalling act by the CIA going undercover using a vaccination programme and the services of Dr Shakil Afridi to locate Osama bin Laden. The backlash of this was the kidnapping and killing of polio workers alleged to be “spies”. This led to a breakdown of the programme and now a rise in cases of polio in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan) an area of ongoing conflict.

There are many myths and misconceptions in relation to polio and I am not just referring to those living in Tribal Areas that reject the vaccine, some claiming its a plan to sterilize Muslims. There are misunderstandings from aid agencies that don’t always know what is happening on the ground and may not be the most appropriate people to assist or at the frontline of vaccination in Pakistan anyway.

For a start there were assumptions by some NGOs and parts of the media that all the past killing of polio workers was carried out by one group and usually blaming the Taliban. However when I asked Taliban about claiming responsibility for deaths they said “not in every case. In some cases we had no involvement.” So there may be several risk factors for workers from different sources which would need to be identified as far as possible. However I believe a way would only be found to progress if drone strikes stopped and dialogue could start officially.

The Taliban control key areas where polio is on the increase… There is a need to explore thinking from key stakeholders, though to some that is substantially more threatening than people killing each other. Also what others might easily dismiss as propaganda on polio I see as reasoned thinking.

An estimated 50,000 people have died in Pakistan due to fighting America’s War on Terror, often caught up in the fighting between the army and the Taliban, in addition civilians are killed in drone strikes

To sum up the main points given to me by Taliban as follows:-

We are not opposed to healthcare per se but can’t ignore spy operations under their cover

Enemies want to vaccinate children before droning them

Our children are not dying of polio but other factors.

Most of our organisations operate within the framework defined by those fighting us. Someone with bleeding wounds does not worry about a pimple

When your house is raided, you fight. Vaccinations and green tea afterwards.

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I had a conversation with a member of the National Institute for Pakistan studies who was suspicious of my concern over the polio vaccine and referred to the wider problems of society. He said, “they (aid agencies) are just focusing on polio vaccination which is too much controversial in Pakistan. we have hospitals but no doctors and medicine in it, we have schools but no books and faculty for it, 70% Pakistanis are under poverty.” The problem is with even with strong finance, a comprehensive health programme and the best will in the world how can these wider problems be tackled under the anger and resentment caused by US drones, inaccessibility to tackle problems and fighting America’s war.

Isn’t it about time aid and health organizations campaigned to stop drones if they want to promote a successful polio programme with the safest vaccines administered by locals trained and trusted within their communities.

After discussion I was invited to visit Pakistan and see the situation for myself as I was told that NGOs don’t listen to what the people want. I do believe that one of the main problems in society is failing to hear what people say and accepting that we don’t always get things right first time. I was left with the following words ringing in my head,

“Drones and so called war against terror is itself a disease”

My contact emphasized, how could residents in FATA believe that the west with their behaviour did not want people of the Tribal Areas to be harmed by polio. There is rightly a huge credibility and trust issue here and vaccines and those who promote them are seen to have their roots in the west.

“They are our enemy… we don’t need their vaccination, they should not kill us by drones!”

Thanks to PTI for images

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

 

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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1 Response to Drones: Pakistan’s polio “problem” cannot be addressed unless drone strikes stop

  1. Danish says:

    Give a child milk, and they ask for cookies…This is sufficient for those who think that ending drone strikes will eliminate all of Pakistan’s problems, the TTP will become purring cats, LeJ/TTP will stop bombing shias and peace will finally prevail in the great land of the pure…..!!!

    Carol Anne Grayson, just go to the Taliban, accept Islam, send a marital proposal to Mullah Omar and send us your wedding pictures..!!!

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