The reputation of the Taliban was already well-established and did not require the use of child hostages to convince anyone of the extremists’ venal nature. Even so, the ban on polio vaccination in northwestern Pakistan – and the attacks on health workers who defy it – is a remarkable example of the Taliban’s inhumanity, one that not only risks the health of some 280,000 of Pakistan’s children but also hampers the world’s ability to eradicate the disease.
The Taliban say they will lift the ban once the United States agrees to stop the use of drone attacks against the extremists. That undermines the logic of those who would excuse the Taliban their act of blackmail by suggesting it is logical fallout from the CIA’s use of a vaccination campaign as a ruse to establish the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
That was a reckless tactic by the CIA. It gave extremist leaders in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) the pretext to declare that the locally run polio vaccination program is also a cover for American spies. Of course, it is not a broken trust with medical personnel that underpins the vaccination ban.
The Taliban simply see the health of children – even their own children – as a weapon to be used against the U.S. Their commitment to lift the ban once there is a halt to drone strikes illustrates as much. If the Taliban truly believed the local health workers, or the World Health Organization for that matter, were legions of U.S. spies, they would hardly be prepared to let the vaccinations resume.
The halt to polio vaccination is a terrible blow to global public health efforts. Just 25 years ago, there were a quarter of a million cases of polio in 125 countries. So far this year, there have only been 91 cases in four countries, Pakistan among them. Who’s to say how many children will now end up stricken by a preventable virus, one that can rob them of the ability to walk, and for how many more years the virus will claim new victims, as a result of the Taliban’s crime against children.