Health

After TTP calls off truce, gunmen target polio vaccinators, police

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

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A health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign in Karachi on September 21. [Asif Hassan/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- Gunmen fatally shot a policeman guarding a polio vaccination team in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Sunday (December 12), authorities said, the second such killing in two days.

"Two gunmen riding a motorbike opened fire on a policeman who was guarding a two-member female polio vaccination team in the Sheikh Uttar area, killing him on the spot," Tank district police chief Sajjad Khan told AFP.

Noor Aslam, a local police official, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Radio Mashaal that the attackers fled the area and a "search operation is under way".

No one has taken responsibility for the killing, which comes a day after an attack claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

On Saturday, two men riding a motorcycle opened fire on police officers guarding another two-woman polio inoculation team who were vaccinating children in Tank district.

"The gunmen opened fire indiscriminately, killing one policeman on the spot and wounding another," district police officer Sajjad Khan told AFP.

Another local police official, Kamal Shah, confirmed the incident and said the assailants had escaped.

The TTP claimed the attack and put the death toll at two, according to a statement from spokesman Muhammad Khurasani.

Militants dump ceasefire

The militants on Friday ended a ceasefire with Pakistan's government, accusing authorities of violating the terms of the one-month truce.

No progress had come in fresh negotiations with Pakistan's government, according to an audio message released late Friday by TTP leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud.

Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in October that the government was in talks with the group for the first time since 2014.

The decision aroused sharp criticism from victims of terrorism and civil society activists.

Past peace agreements with the TTP failed to restore peace and instead emboldened and strengthened the militant group, they said.

TTP leaders failed to hold up their end of the deals inked in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009.

The TTP -- a movement separate from Afghanistan's new leaders that shares a common history -- plunged Pakistan into a period of horrific violence after its inception in 2007.

Seven years after a military crackdown on the TTP, Islamabad is now trying to quell a comeback by the group after the fall of the Afghan government in August.

Police guards protecting vaccination teams in Pakistan have come under attack in the past, mostly from homegrown militants.

In October, two TTP militants riding a motorbike shot and killed a police officer guarding a polio vaccination team in Dera Ismail Khan, KP.

In September, unknown gunmen killed an officer escorting a vaccination team in Kohat, KP.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where polio remains endemic, though progress to eradicate the disease is being made.

In Pakistan just one case has been reported this year after medics observed 84 cases in 2020, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In Afghanistan, four wild poliovirus cases have been reported so far this year, compared to 56 cases in 2020.

But efforts to eradicate the disease in Pakistan have collided with conspiracy theories spread by the radical religious right, which claim vaccination programmes are part of a Western plot to sterilise Muslims.

The unsubstantiated claims have led many parents, particularly those with little education, to refuse the jab for their children.

Ongoing violence in Afghanistan has also prevented polio vaccinators from administering the lifesaving drops to hundreds of thousands of children, according to local health officials.

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