The Pakistani Taliban’s unending war on children continues unabated as the Islamist terror group in the past month has shot and killed 16 health aid workers for administering polio vaccines to children.
The execution of the polio workers -- mostly young women in their teens and early 20s -- is the Taliban’s latest effort to forestall a United Nations-backed polio immunization drive in Pakistan, one of three countries (along with Afghanistan and Nigeria) where the disease still remains endemic.
The most recent Taliban victims were six female health workers and a male doctor in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, all brutally slain when the van they were riding in was sprayed with bullets fired from automatic weapons wielded by Taliban gunmen.
Their gruesome deaths had been preceded in mid-December when over a span of two days, Taliban gunmen in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Karachi killed 9 health workers, seven of whom were women.
Those victims, one who was only 14 years old, were all shot in the head execution-style, including two women who were slain while they were in the process of administering polio drops to children.
Perhaps not to be outdone by its jihadist brethren, as these killings were being committed Taliban in the eastern Afghanistan province of Kapisa shot and killed a 16-year-old schoolgirl for reportedly working as a volunteer on a local UN-funded polio-immunization program.
While the Pakistani Taliban has denied responsibility for the murderous spree, Pakistan police said culpability for the brutal and well-coordinated attacks led unmistakably to the doorstep of the barbaric Islamist militant group.
That conclusion should come as little surprise given that the Taliban and its Islamist allies in the region have long been threatening violence toward those who dare to participate in efforts to protect vulnerable children from the dreaded viral disease.
Those threats had been openly announced back in July when the Taliban issued an edict banning UN-backed health workers from administering polio vaccine in its territory, claiming the vaccinators were really US spies in disguise trying to locate new Taliban targets for American drone strikes.
Despite the ludicrousness of that charge, it should be noted that the Taliban developed a skeptical view toward vaccination campaigns of any kind after it learned the United States had used a fake anti-hepatitis immunization campaign to help capture and kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
As a result, the Taliban has fought to disrupt any effort aimed to inoculate the nearly 300,000 children living in the Taliban-controlled region along the Afghan-Pakistan border, an area that represents 75 percent of all polio cases in Pakistan.
To some, however, the Taliban’s aversion toward the polio immunization campaign is simply just a cover for its broader and more deadly hostility aimed at female health workers.
That animus was brutally on display from 2007 to 2010 when the Taliban controlled the Swat Valley in Pakistan’s Khyber province and instituted a Sharia-based reign of terror which included such niceties as public segregation of the sexes; bans on music, movies, and television; a ban on girls’ education; and public whippings, beatings and stoning meted out to violators of the new rules.
During that time, the Taliban also launched a targeted war against women serving as Lady Health Workers (LHW), a Pakistani government program where women provide basic community health services in rural and poverty stricken areas, services that include vaccinating infants.
Specifically, the Taliban found it offensive that the LHWs were conducting their door-to-door work unaccompanied by men, a violation of Sharia law that rendered them “prostitutes” and thus, according to Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah, “fit for murder.”
According to a study done by the British Medical Journal, the LHWs were then subjected to “beheadings, as well as public beatings and firing on their houses and murders of their colleagues’ family members.”
In addition to that barbarity, the Taliban also issued a fatwa against the LHWs that declared it was “a Muslim man’s duty to kidnap the women health workers when they paid home visits, to marry them forcibly even if they were already married women, or to use them as sexual slaves.”
So given that, it shouldn’t surprise then that the Taliban remains perfectly comfortable with subjecting children under its control to an acute viral infection that can lead to permanent paralysis and, in some cases, death.
Yet unfortunately, the Taliban’s hostile view of polio vaccinations has found fertile soil among a disturbingly large percentage of Pakistani Muslims.
In addition to seeing polio immunization as a dastardly CIA plot, these Pakistanis also view immunization as either a violation of Islamic law or an orchestrated Western-led plot to depopulate the Muslim populace through vaccines laced with HIV and sterilization chemicals.
That latter view was perhaps best expressed by a Pakistani lawyer in the city of Peshawar who recently said, “These vaccines are meant to destroy our nation. The [polio] drops make men less manly, and make women more excited and less bashful. Our enemies want to wipe us out.”
That enlightened viewpoint may also help to explain why a growing number of Pakistani parents are refusing to vaccinate their children, refusal which has sparked an increase in violence being levied against health workers administering polio vaccinations in areas outside of Taliban-control.
Yet, while the Taliban’s deliberate cold-blooded execution of polio vaccinators has ratcheted up the level of violence to new and disturbing levels, it has so far failed to end the anti-polio campaign. After a temporary suspension, the polio immunization drive in Pakistan has restarted with vaccination teams being provided extra police and military protection.
Unfortunately for those volunteer polio workers, given recent events, no amount of added protection seems capable of stopping the Taliban’s unrelenting efforts to murder them.
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