Polio, which once ravaged the world, now only routinely occurs in only three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. The UN has launched a campaign to vaccinate children in these areas to wipe the disease out once and for all. However, the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan has decided that this effort is an American conspiracy to “make men less manly and make women more excited and less bashful” — and have begun assassinating aid workers who only hoped to save children from the ravages of what should be an extinct disease:
Pakistan may be one of the world’s three remaining polio-stricken countries but Sartaj Khan has decided that the government-sponsored vaccination campaign is much more sinister than it appears.
“These vaccines are meant to destroy our nation,” said Khan, a 42-year-old lawyer in the city of Peshawar. “The [polio] drops make men less manly, and make women more excited and less bashful. Our enemies want to wipe us out.”
Khan is not alone in the belief, propagated by extremist groups, that is gaining currency in the Pashtun belt of northwestern Pakistan: The government’s anti-polio campaign is a ruse by the Americans to sterilize or spy on Muslims. …
The belief has turned deadly: Nine anti-polio workers have been killed by gunmen on motorcycles this week. Some of those killed were teenage girls. Following the violence, the United Nations pulled back all staff involved in the vaccination campaign and officials suspended it in some parts of the country.
They point to the covert effort to discover Osama bin Laden as evidence:
Many also believe that much like the Pakistani physician, Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who helped the CIA run a fake vaccination program to establish the presence of Osama bin Laden, the army of health workers employed to vaccinate the country’s children are also on the United States’ payroll.
Ironically, it’s the Taliban’s own tribe that is most at risk. NBC reports that the Pashtun comprise 15% of Pakistan’s population, but suffered from 75% of reported polio cases. Islamists in all three polio nations have attempted to disrupt the vaccinations, but the disruptions have turned deadly in Pakistan.
The connection to the OBL raid prompts a couple of tough questions. American intelligence is already barred from impersonating journalists in covert operations in order to keep from endangering correspondents in war-torn areas, although it’s arguable how much effect that has on suspicions of espionage by journalists among combatants. Should that ban be extended to the impersonation of medical personnel, too? Or maybe it would have just been better if we hadn’t flapped our gums so much about how we finally discovered and confirmed OBL’s hiding place in Abbottabad. I’ll bet that is Dr. Afridi’s opinion, too.