The past three days have seen a number of major attacks between Pakistan’s Taliban, known as the TTP, and Pakistan’s military. On Sunday, a bomb exploded in a van transporting Pakistani troops, killing 20. This attack took place in Bannu (Bannu will return to this story in a moment). On Monday, a suicide bomber killed 13 just a few meters from the outside wall of the General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army in Rawilpindi. Today, Pakistani jets killed at least 24 with bombs dropped in North Waziristan.
It appears that in the Sunday attack, the bomb was in a vehicle rented for transporting troops:
“The explosion took place in a civil Hiace van inside Bannu Parade Ground at 8:45 am,” a senior military official told The Express Tribune. The blast occurred just as Frontier Corps (FC) troops had stepped into the van ahead of their departure.
“The K-P paramilitary unit had rented a vehicle from the market for movement of its troops,” he added. The vehicle was supposed to carry the soldiers to Razmak, a town in North Waziristan Agency.
“It wasn’t immediately known whether it was a suicide bombing or the device was detonated through a remote control,” he added. “The van driver was also killed in the blast.”
The suicide bomber in Monday’s attack was first seen on a bicycle:
District Coordination Officer Sajid Zafar Dall said that at the time of the attack a gaggle of children were heading to school. “Our initial assessment is that the bomber was possibly on a bicycle and he then approached the target on foot,” he added. Since it was morning time, RA Bazaar was bustling with office-goers and schoolchildren.
Quoting eyewitnesses, Sardar Zulfikar, the SHO of RA Bazaar police station, said the bomber was walking towards the GHQ but detonated the explosive vest the moment he saw army troops at RA Bazaar’s main roundabout, T-Chowk. The building of National Logistics Cell is located nearby.
The RA Bazaar is considered a high security zone due to its proximity with the GHQ. Police investigators believe the bomber intended to target the military headquarters. However, he couldn’t get to his target due to the tight security.
Today’s bombing by the Pakistani Air Force appears to be in response to these attacks:
Several suspected militant hideouts were trampled by Pakistan’s military’s fighter jets in Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan, killing at least 24 persons and wounding 15 more, various local news channels reported on Tuesday.
The air strike followed a series of terrorist attacks across Pakistan in the past week, including Monday’s blast on a check post in Rawalpindi that martyred 6 army personnel and 7 civilians. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed the responsibility for the attack. The events had led to a mounting pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take tougher decisions in response to the recent attacks by TTP.
“This hadn’t been planned before, and Pakistan Air Force jets were called to hit hideouts of the militants involved in attacks on security forces,” said one military official speaking on condition of anonymity.
It appears that the operations by Pakistani forces are continuing in several locations in North Waziristan.
Yesterday, we got the tremendous news that after having lead the world in the number of polio cases as recently as 2009, the World Health Organization announced that there have been zero polio cases in India for three consecutive years. In today’s Express Tribune, we see a discussion of whether and how Pakistan can now rise to the challenge of polio eradication. In the article, we learn that the US drone killing of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud not only disrupted the developing plans for peace talks between the Taliban and Pakistan’s government, but it also affected polio vaccinations in North and South Waziristan:
According to the State Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarrar, NWA and South Waziristan did not receive any immunisation in months, contrary to former North Waziristan Agency (NWA) surgeon Jan Mir Khan, who was part of recent polio efforts. “After the drone strike that killed Hakimullah, it all stopped. Not just the peace talks, but also our efforts,” she says.
The terrible impact of the CIA’s vaccination ruse employing Dr. Shakeel Afridi in the search for Osama bin Laden has been extensively documented here, but this is the first time I have seen a suggestion that backlash to a drone strike directly resulted in polio vaccines being denied to children. Tarrar is not ready to give up, however, and believes that Pakistan and the Taliban will eventually come to an agreement that will allow vaccinations to resume:
Saira Tarrar also emphasised that the people of the area need to be part of the solution. “Parents are now sick of the ban; this pressurises the Taliban.”
“There is an accessibility problem in Fata, but by 2014, we will get a bargain and get some access.” And access is key, as far as Elias Durray, the head of Polio Eradication at the World Health Organization in Pakistan is concerned. “Immunisation prevents circulation. The virus won’t vanish on its own.”
Let us hope that Pakistan can achieve full vaccine coverage and have polio disappear as quickly in Pakistan as it did in India. Of course, this will require the US actually letting peace negotiations between the Taliban and Pakistan come to fruition, so success is far from guaranteed.
There are public calls on a remarkable number of different fronts for a renewed commitment to polio vaccination in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, which is now governed by Imran Khan’s PTI party. Direct appeals to Khan are coming from the World Health Organization and from Bill Gates. A major conference of Islamic scholars also came out with a statement backing polio immunization and providing push-back against the view that immunization campaigns aim to sterilize Muslims or are run by Western intelligence agencies.
Dawn gives us the details of the WHO push:
World Health Organisation, Pakistan polio chief Dr Elias Durry on Thursday apprised Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan in Lahore of the threat to the health of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa children due to non-vaccination, it is learned. PTI, which has the most seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, leads a coalition government in the province.
According to the relevant officials, the meeting has coincided with the confirmation of three fresh polio cases from Federally Administered Tribal Areas by National Institute of Health.
They said Fata had reported five, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa four and Sindh two of this year’s 13 countrywide polio cases.
Khan is eager to help in the campaign and has taken part in promoting immunization before his party was elected to govern KP:
The officials said WHO had publicly recorded its reservations about polio eradication efforts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially in Peshawar.
They said the PTI chairman, who had inaugurated various polio campaigns in the country’s several cities, apprised the WHO, Pakistan polio chief of his eagerness to see fight against polio succeed.
The officials said Imran Khan carefully listened to Dr Elias Durry’s concerns about Khyber Pakhtunkhwa children’s vaccination and assured him that he would convey them to the PTI-led provincial government for necessary action on emergency basis.
“Imran Khan said he would issue special instructions to the provincial chief minister (who belongs to PTI) to ensure vaccination of all children under five as ensuring better health care in the province is his government’s top priority,” an official said.
Also joining the push for immunization is Bill Gates, as we learn from the Express Tribune:
Famous American business magnate Bill Gates has sought Imran Khan’s cooperation to eradicate polio in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as the province apparently failed to provide security to polio workers.
Gates sent a personal letter through his emissary to chairman Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PT) Imran Khan asking for his party’s cooperation in furthering the anti polio vaccination programme in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said an official statement.
Imran Khan is scheduled to speak to him on the phone to discuss modalities of moving against polio which takes the lives of so many children in Pakistan especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Especially welcome news comes from a meeting held by Islamic scholars who produced a statement in favor of immunization and condemning the killing of vaccination workers. They also condemned Dr. Shakil Afridi and any other participation of intelligence agencies in vaccination programs: Continue reading
Providing more evidence that perhaps the best move President Obama can make for world affairs is to quickly appoint a new Secretary of Defense so that Leon Panetta can retire to a soundproof booth, five more polio workers in Pakistan paid with their lives for Panetta’s leak that conclusively tied Dr. Shakil Afridi and a vaccination ruse to the CIA effort to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. The tragic shootings in Pakistan consisted of three separate incidents in Karachi and one in Peshawar.
Dawn summarizes various news services’ reports on the shootings:
Four were killed in three different incidents in the port city of Karachi and the fifth in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the second day of a nationwide three-day drive against the disease, which is endemic in Pakistan.
All of the victims were Pakistanis working with a UN-backed programme to eradicate polio.
Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for Sindh province said he had ordered a halt to the anti-polio drive in the city in the wake of the shootings.
These killings come on the heels of previous incidents:
On Monday, police said a gunman killed a volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign was shot dead on the city outskirts in Gadap Town.
Earlier in July 2012, a local paramedic associated with the polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana along with his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.
WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan’s largest city in July after a spate of bloody shootings.
These killings come just under three weeks since it was announced that Dr. Afridi had started a hunger strike at Peshawar Central Jail after the jail retaliated against him for his telephone interview with Fox News. Since the report of the start of the hunger strike, the jail has fired the guard whose phone was used for the interview, but I’ve seen no further reports on the status (or whereabouts) of Afridi. That is striking, since the report on Afridi’s hunger strike appeared within 24 hours of its apparent start. Further, we learn from the New York Times today that US funds for Pakistan’s military have once again begun to flow, despite repeated threats from various members of Congress that these funds would be blocked until Afridi is released from jail. These events also take place in the wake of Panetta’s ham-handed “clarification” last week on the status of Pakistan’s cooperation in anti-terrorism activity.
The Times article tells us that the Pentagon notified Congress of the release of funds to Pakistan on December 7, just a week after the Afridi hunger strike started on November 30. Is Afridi still in Peshawar Central Jail or has he been quietly released and removed from the country as part of the normalization of US-Pakistan relations?