Polio team attacker remanded to Ghizer police for 3 days

Fida Ali Shah & Qasim Shah

An attack on a polio vaccination team in the Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan has set an alarming bell ringing as the Gilgit-Baltistan is reeling from the extremist attacks on schools and a police check-post in Diamer District and Gilgit last month.

The authorities are groping in the dark or seem helpless in arresting the culprits of the last month’s attacks which has emboldened the extremist elements to strike whenever and wherever they want.

According to sources, a two-member polio vaccination team was attacked on Sept 24 in a remote area of Ghizer district by a man when they approached him to have his children vaccinated.

The Phandar police arrested the suspect, identified as Janbaz Khan, a non-local resident, on September 25 and presented him before a sessions judge for his physical remand. The court granted a three-day physical remand of the suspect for questioning.

According to the police and the locals, Khan had attacked the polio workers when they showed up at the door of the suspect and asked him to have his kids vaccinated. The man allegedly rushed inside the house and came back with a rifle aiming it at the workers. The polio team escaped before he triggered the button. “We, luckily escaped from the scene and took refuge behind big boulders before going back to Thamoshki to inform polio in-charge,” said one the polio worker wishing anonymity.

The Phandar police station SHO Bahadur Wali told The High Asia Herald that the accused, has been arrested and an investigation is underway.

District Health Officer Muhammad Issa Khan confirmed the incident and assured that the health department will protect the workers until the man is convicted. He said that the police will be asked to book him under Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). In Pakistan, attackers on polio teams are harangued under the Anti-terrorism Act.

Khan has a criminal record as three years back, he was arrested by the police for felling trees in the protected forest in Chashi Nala. The people of the area have demanded the district authorities to tighten the noose around extremists and criminals and give the suspect an exemplary punishment.

More than 100 polio workers have been killed in such attacks since December 2012, including 15 people in a suicide blast outside a polio vaccination centre in Quetta.

Taliban militants and extremist elements have attacked polio workers in the past, consider anti-polio vaccines as a Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. Pakistan is one of only three countries where the crippling disease remains endemic.

The Islamists’ opposition to all forms of immunisation grew after the America Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al Qaeda’s former leader Osama bin Laden in the  garrison town of Abbottabad. He was killed there by US forces in 2011.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world, along with Nigeria and Afghanistan, that have failed to prevent the transmission of polio, according to the World Health Organization.

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