Friday's round of attacks against anti-polio health workers in Pakistan resulted in the deaths of two policemen and a polio worker. Despite having come close to polio eradication numerous times in the past, Pakistan is still one of three countries to remain polio-endemic. No one has immediately claimed responsibility, but the Taliban has previously opposed all anti-polio efforts. However, while killers are ultimately responsible for such attacks such as this, the United States is also to blame for Pakistan's continued polio epidemic.
The first victim, polio vaccination team member Muhammad Yousaf, was shot by unidentified militants upon returning home after dispensing oral polio drops to children. The other two victims, Ijaz Ali and Iftikhar Ali, were reportedly en route to guard polio vaccination workers in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province when they, too, were shot dead by suspected militants.
This, unfortunately, has become a pattern in Pakistan as polio vaccinations and police officers protecting them have come under a profound threat — a threat that was sparked by the actions of the CIA.
In July 2011, the American intelligence community, in a display of extreme short-sightedness and stupidity, faked a vaccination drive as an elaborate scheme to prove that Osama bin Laden was indeed in Abbottabad. The idea was to get DNA samples from the children in Abbottabad in order to compare them to those of bin Laden's sister who died in Boston in 2010, proving that the family was present in the region. Instead of the actual vaccinations, children recieved dummy vaccinations.
In a country where distrust of foreign intelligence services already runs deep, this didn't sit well with the Pakistani communities, and subsequently, gave the Taliban the upper hand. Soon, the Taliban all but waged a war against polio workers. They repeatedly attacked heath teams and denounced vaccinations as part of a larger western scheme. They also added that the ban would remain in place until the U.S. ends drone strikes, still often run by the CIA.
The result of the ban on polio vaccinations has been devastating. According to the United Nations, an estimated 240,000 children in North and South Waziristan have missed their vaccinations since June. As long as one child remains infected with polio, children around the world are at risk of contracting it. According to the World Health Organization, the failure to eradicate polio from the remaining three countries could result in as many as 200,000 new cases each year.
Clearly, the Taliban is to blame for the murders of the anti-polio health workers, and for Pakistan's continued obstacles in eradicating polio. But the United States also holds a large portion of the blame. By using the anti-polio campaign as a tool in their covert operations, the U.S. has discredited all health promotion activities in the country, and has put not just the Pakistani children, but children all around the world at risk.