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A rescue worker checks blood-stained forms belonging to Nasima Bibi, one of the five female workers of an anti-polio drive campaign who was shot by gunmen in Karachi. Photo: Reuters

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.

17 Responses to “Murders so foul that the sky bleeds in pain”

  1. Tonmoy

    The US is responsible for patronizing the Taliban. The US must bear the responsibility.

  2. Bithi Azam

    Taliban is the worst enemy of the women and their emancipation. The country that nurtures Taliban is as evil as Taliban itself.

  3. Tamanna

    Those who don’t care about children’s health and welfare are nothing but evil. Taliban is nothing but an evil force.

  4. Gias Alam Huda

    Inhuman and barbaric. Talibans must be wiped out from the face of the earth.

  5. Kaiser Ahamad

    How can healing children or protecting children from deadly diseases be anti-Islam?

  6. Sabbir Huda

    I am absolutely speechless. What kind of monsters kill innocent health workers who were trying to protect the children from deadly diseases?

    • Kayes

      It is the same monster that Biswajit on Dhaka streets. These people are indoctrinated and told that there are no consequences. Start putting some consequences in place (like the rule of law and punishment for all crimes and the monsters will probably go hide.

  7. russel

    how pathetic the reason of killing!.They are living (killers) in a fools paradise. well written Mr.kayes. Anyway ,How are your dogs?

    • Kayes

      Russel: I now have two dogs only. My oldest dog Iris died of Nasal Cancer after lots of radiation and therapy. She lived for 18 years which is very long. Daisy suddenly died of Renal failure.She just got old and fat. One day she would not stand up, just gave up. The other two are small and jumpy. Like all my dogs they are rescued dogs. I take them hiking and snow shoeing. We spent one night in snow caving so far this winter, more coming. They burrow into my sleeping bag and afraid of the bears. I have a black bear that comes to the house every now and then and attack the garbage cans. I appreciate the fact that you read my rats and raves, regardless of how you feel about them. Thanks.

  8. Alam

    Mr Ahmed,
    I am trying to feel the feelings of your pains and anguishes on the events happened and unlikely to rekindle true spirit of Islam in the absence of mass level general education at least up to Secondary/’O’-Level standard for change and upbringing mental chemistry to enjoy better life in a close knit of social fabrics which Pakistan like countries lacking historically.
    These unkind events of killings and torture manifest animality and mental disorder allowed to spread by the Block-minded so-called human peers who seemingly prefer to Live and Die in brutality in the name of Religion.
    The state has been chained up by the Negatives to flourish at the cost of the mass people, and since 1947 animality has been embraced openly in using religion wipon by the fortune seekers of power and money…mankind got shattered and felt under the iron-boot to smash. And thereby news of unnatural and unkind deaths and its ultimate impact on the divided society, appear now a days, as usual one and expected to happen here and there frequently when rationality remains in the death bed.
    In a country like Pakistan/ Bangladesh, where Education,Labor/Work, Service to Humanity,Environment, adherence to Law, Patriotism etc are not considered as essential part of Religion ….living on begging/others earned money become a thump-rule leaving self-dignity in peril. Application of rule of law in a country like Pakistan become a very difficult task in the absence of healthy social-political institutions in a dominant illiterate society having religious block-minded people in administration.
    I can hope mass awareness will develop with the prudent participation of both electronic and print media to fight back all odds.

    • Kayes

      Alam Shahib:

      Thank you for considered response. I think I disagree with the last paragraph. Here are my reasons; Pakistan and Bangladesh are not on equal footing. Pakistan is a failed state whereas Bangladesh is knocking on the door of prosperity. All the things you talk about ARE part of all major religions. I do no think Islam says go kill people that do not agree with you, neither do any other religions. It is how the zealots interpret and implement. It is a crime for civil society to withdraw and not enforce civil laws and de-legitimize the philosophical foundation of violence and intolerance. Yes they are bred by ignorance but we do not have to get a PH.D to counter that, we should counter that when we see it, where we see it. So, education starts at basic level. Be kind to the next person who disagrees with you. Remember What Rumi says, “Be grateful for whoever comes,because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

      • Alam

        Ahmed Shahib,
        I salute your broad based outlook and agree to disagree some of your observations.With my little understanding about religion in general, MANKIND remains the core issue to ‘FEEL IN & PRACTICE IN’ all spheres of life. PHD type education is not necessarily necessary to understand and feel the feeling for others, but basic education is necessary to create a healthy social environment to live in. Dominance of illiteracy generally does not promote and accept criticism/disagreement, instead create an wave of unkind social behavior having block-minded people around. Definitely my assumptions do not apply to born genius and generous one/born creative people who can see meaning of life through others. Various conflicts in the society are containable with the dominant presence of educated mass people.
        Conflicts in Bangldesh so far do not turn into so violent/deadly action like pakistan, but over the years the amount of restlessness in co-existence among conflicting classes kept on increasing.
        TO achieve Heaven,’only donate to and create more Mosque and Madrasas… Be in Ebadot/Prayer, do not remain busy for worldly affairs'(Ebadotee monojogii hoon, kajj neya besto thakbenna….Dhormio shikha laab korun),when mental chemestry of mass/majority people go with this, its net effect may not be healthy.
        For a sustainable growth and healthy society, Education should be taken as the priority tool to fight back all odds in Bangladesh.
        Many thanks for your value comment.

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