No I am not talking about the killings of 20 innocent children and six adults in Newtown, CT. We know the perpetrator of that evil act and we also know that it was a case of madness and a gun culture gone out of control. No, I am not talking about that evil but the evil of the cold hearted and targeted killings of five UN healthcare nurses in Karachi, Pakistan followed up with four more killings of administrators and workers related to the Polio Vaccination Programme. Their crime? They tried to vaccinate children against polio, one of the deadliest and most debilitating diseases known to mankind. Talk about Jahiliyya (ignorance and false thoughts about God) in the name of God, Quran and code of conduct as designated by laws of Pakistan, basic humanity as well as the teachings of Sharia.
Between Monday the 17th of December and Wednesday the 19th of December of 2012, the Taliban and its affiliated thugs casually murdered nine polio vaccination workers, mainly women, in Karachi and Peshawar. Both are violent cities with large Pashtun populations. Since then both the UN and World Health Organization have suspended all vaccination, immunization and medical and healthcare outreach programmes in Pakistan. These programmes reach the poorest of the poor whom both the Pakistani elite and the mullahs disdain and actively try to erase from their conscience.
Polio is a terribly infectious disease that can paralyze the afflicted person quickly, sometime within hours. It is a viral disease that spreads from person to person via the faecal and/or oral route. It tends to infect the central nervous system and preferentially destroys the motor neurons, which then leads to muscle weakness and acute flaccid paralysis. For a poor Pakistani kid growing up with any kind of paralysis and disability is probably a fate worse than death. But this does not have to happen.
Polio was endemic in the Western world only a few decades ago. Did you ever see a standing up picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his glory days as War President? Probably not. He always appeared seated and/or properly staged with a prop to hide the fact that he was paralyzed in the legs. He did not have childhood polio like most of the cases but contracted poliomyelitis while vacationing in Canada. He was 39 years old at the time of contracting polio but he was crippled nonetheless and had to use wheelchair for the rest of his life. Polio devastated many lives and once the vaccine was found, the Western world, nay, the whole world went on a campaign to banish the scourge from the planet. The effort has been nearly a total success. I say nearly because there are still pockets of polio in the world and the demon threatens to break out of these isolated populations. There are only three countries where polio is still rampaging and crippling people. These are of course our old friends, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the odd man out, Nigeria. A simple childhood vaccine could banish the disease.
Polio in 2012 tends to attack the populations that are under the sway of the nihilistic mullahs. Pasthuns account for some 75% of the polio cases in Pakistan. There is a direct causal relationship between the behaviour of the Taliban steeped in ignorance and the devastating epidemic that will cripple many of the Pasthun children for life. The Taliban issued a decree this year that it opposes any polio vaccination efforts if the West is involved. This is clearly a reaction to the CIA’s use of vaccination as cover trying to uncover Osama bin Laden’s hiding place in Abbottabad. In actuality, the CIA did use one Dr. Afridi to administer a failed and fake vaccination programme in the hope of obtaining DNA samples from the children in the bin Laden compound. The Taliban has taken umbrage to such use of a vaccination programme. Fair enough, I give it to them. The use of vaccination as cover for espionage was despicable act but who pays the price for the abominable acts of the US government? It seems that the Taliban thinks it should be the innocent Pashtun children. By their actions the Taliban is saying that it is the children that should bear the brunt of the punishment. It also falls nicely into the ignorant narratives that some of the so-called religious scholars preach in which they believe that vaccinations are a deliberate attempt to render a given population infertile, hence fewer good Muslims in the future! The litany just goes on and on and in the meanwhile the kids suffer and get crippled.
I remember when smallpox was a virulent form of infectious disease. Bangladesh was one of the last places to get rid of the disease. In my childhood it was so feared that if anyone in a village or neighbourhood contracted the disease none of us were allowed to go near the place. One time I went to a village near Sylhet to visit my maternal grandfather and they were in the process of burning down their meagre stock of bed spreads, pillows and blankets. This was going on because someone saw someone inside the house who looked like she had smallpox. The offending person was from a nearby village afflicted with smallpox and had come to the house for alms. Well, the fear was palpable and somewhat irrational. In the middle of their fear and paranoia the village elders held a salish (a binding meeting of the village elders) and concluded that they would not subject their male children to vaccination that was happening. I vividly remember the hennaed Imam saying things like “Oushoder maje bish deyoa ache. Pooanite e Oushod loile Baap oito partho nay”. A loose translation is, there is poison in the medicine and if the boys take it then they will not be able to become fathers. This was the mindset in the villages of East Pakistan in the late ‘60s. So, on one hand everyone was panicked and on the other hand the elders were preventing a comprehensive vaccination programme. There was a lot of secular influence in those days and we did not have the stranglehold of the Wahhabi money in Bangladesh. But, even then ignorance took away many lives and disfigured many more. It took years after that to eradicate smallpox and control cholera. The low life expectancy in East Pakistan was mainly due to various preventable diseases and epidemics. Now, the Taliban and Wahhabi supported groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan are fanning the flame and enforcing ignorance via murder and mayhem.
The Taliban are telling the illiterate Pasthuns that the vaccinations are banned by Islam, never mind that these medicines have existed for maybe 40 years and the promulgations by the Last Prophet happened some 1,400 years ago. “It’s difficult when someone has specifically said that this is medicine that is completely banned by your religion,” said Nosheen Fakhir, a nurse in the paediatric ward of Agha Khan University Hospital. “These are essentially illiterate people who have no way of knowing what is true and what’s not.” The Taliban are trading death and disability and they are banking on the ignorance of the target people.
So, what should the international community do? As of now the UN and WHO have pulled out their workers from the field and all vaccinations have stopped. The Pakistan government has proclaimed that it will continue the vaccinations without any international involvement. If you buy that from a failed government like Pakistan then I do have a bridge to sell that spans across the San Francisco Bay. The bottom line is this – the Pasthuns will most likely remain afflicted with this terrible disease for eons to come. We on the outside have to be vigilant that the disease does not escape into our populations and as they say, let God sort ‘em out!
I for one support Ambreen Bibi, a Pakistani health worker, however callous that seems to be. “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?” Ambreen Bibi told Reuters in Islamabad.
Kayes Ahmed lives in Boulder, Colorado, USA with his three dogs. He runs a small yet global apparel and design business based in Boulder.