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After ceasefire agreement, Pakistan Taliban attack polio teams and kill policemen

A child gets polio drops in Lahore, Pakistan (Photo: Xinhua/IANS)

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as Pakistan Taliban, killed two policemen guarding polio teams in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in north-west Pakistan over the weekend. Another policeman was wounded even as the polio workers escaped unharmed.

The attacks began as soon as the one-month-long ceasefire ended between the TTP and the Imran Khan government. The TTP militants identify themselves closely with the Taliban militants in neighbouring Afghanistan and advocate for an Islamic rule in Pakistan—in a manner resembling Afghanistan.

Soon after the Kabul takeover by Taliban in August, the TTP began its attacks on the Pakistani Army and security forces. 

Aseefa B Zardari, polio ambassador and daughter of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, tweeted about the attacks. In a series of tweets, she said: “The cowardly TTP have taken responsibility for the attack on health workers and police. They are attacking those who are trying to protect our children from disease. Now that they have openly admitted this, the govt has no excuse but to arrest these monsters.”

The TTP claimed responsibility for the initial attack on the polio team that took place on Saturday. The second attack has not been linked to any terror outfit. Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that the ceasefire agreement with the Pakistan government had ended just a day earlier on Friday with the TTP blaming the Pakistan government for the violation of the agreement.

The Imran Khan government's peace pact with the fundamentalist TTP had invited severe condemnation on grounds that the government was holding unilateral and secretive talks with the banned oufit.

Large numbers of people in Pakistan oppose giving polio vaccines to their children, as they believe the vaccines cause infertility. For years, polio workers have been attacked by communities in neighbourhoods and also by militants who see the vaccines as a conspiracy against Islam.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries that are battling the scourge of polio—a disease that affects children and can make them physically handicapped. The spread of the Covid-19 infection exactly two years back in 2020 had dented the polio vaccination drive in Pakistan which is now trying to cover lost ground.

Barely a month back, the World Health Organization (WHO) had put travel restrictions on Pakistan for three months citing the existence of the polio virus. A statement by WHO said that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are dangerous countries due to the polio virus which poses a risk to other countries. Polio related travel restrictions had been first imposed on Pakistan in 2014, says Pakistani news channel Geo TV.

A WHO committee also said last month that Pakistan continues to miss vaccinating children and has not been able to bring about behaviour change among parents who resist giving polio drops to their children.