A Taliban leader in Pakistan said that until the United States stops drone strikes—like the one that killed al-Qaida no. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi earlier this month—it will ban polio vaccinations of Pakistani children in the region it controls.
“Polio drops will be banned in North Waziristan until the drones strikes are stopped,” Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur said in a statement released Saturday and published Monday by CNN. “Almost every resident of North Waziristan has become a mental patient because of the drone strikes, which are worse than polio. On one hand, the U.S. spends millions of dollars to eliminate polio, while on the other hand it kills hundreds with the help of its slave, Pakistan.”
UNICEF had been hoping to launch a drive this week to vaccinate 161,000 children in the region. Bahadur said he consulted with leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaida and with Punjabi leaders before making the decision to ban the vaccinations.
Pakistan’s vaccination program came under scrutiny after a Pakistani doctor accused of helping the CIA locate Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad under the guise of the “door-to-door” program was sentenced to 33 years in prison for “acting against the state.”
The announcement, the New York Times said, is “a blow to polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, which is one of just three countries where the disease is still endemic and which accounted for 198 new cases last year—the highest rate in the world.”
But it’s doubtful that the warning will affect U.S. drone strikes. The White House has increased its drone operations under President Barack Obama. The Pakistani government has objected to the drone strikes, saying they are “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”