KHYBER AGENCY - Thirteen soldiers and a child were killed and eight others injured when two roadside bombs followed by gunfire targeted a polio vaccination team in tehsil Jamrud of restive Khyber Agency on Saturday, in the latest attack on efforts to combat the crippling disease.
Jamrud Assistant Political Agent (APA) Jahangir Azam Wazir said a group of paramilitary Khasadar and Levies soldiers assigned to escort anti-polio teams in Walomena rural area of Lashora were targeted with remote-controlled roadside bombs.
He said the troops were protecting a convoy of health workers who were on their way to administer anti-polio drops to children as part of a three-day campaign against polio that started Friday. The militants, who had taken positions on the nearby hills, also started firing at the soldiers after the bomb explosions, local tribesmen said.
“A convoy of three vehicles was taking polio workers to administer the drops and the bombs exploded after the first vehicle that was carrying polio workers crossed the spot,” Khan said. A second bomb was blasted when another vehicle of the forces came for the rescue. Thirteen soldiers and a child were killed on the spot, the APA said. Eight Khasadar troops were also wounded in the attack, Khan said. Two vehicles of force were also destroyed by the bombs, he said.
Soon after the incident, heavy contingents of security forces and the administration officials reached at the site. The area was cordoned off and wounded and dead were taken to Jamrud and Peshawar hospitals, sources said. The deceased included officers Akhtar Munir, Said Karim, hawaldar Taufeeq, Said Kamal, Saddam, Noor Wali, Mohammad Ullah, Qadeer, Ferhad, Riaz, Amjad and a small boy, Razaq.
Khyber Agency Political Agent Shahab Ali while talking to the media persons on his visit to the area said, the moral of Khasadar force and Levies is high and they will never hesitate to render sacrifice for the noble cause. He vowed that soon the culprits will be netted and brought to justice. Nobody had claimed responsibility for the attack till the filing of this report.
Due to security reasons the anti-polio drive could not be completed in the previously fixed time that ended on Friday; therefore, it was extended for a week to cover the whole 38 areas of tehsil Jamrud, health sources said. Rehman Khan, a senior health official in Khyber tribal district, said the polio campaign has been temporarily suspended in the Jamroud area. “We will resume administering of polio drops when the security situation is better,” he said.
Militant strikes and threats of violence have badly hampered campaigns to stamp out polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the disease remains endemic. Militant groups see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage, and there are also long-running rumours about polio drops causing infertility.
More than 40 people, including health workers and police guarding the teams which administer polio drops to children, have been killed in Pakistan since December 2012. Last week gunmen kidnapped a six-member polio vaccination team in southwest Pakistan. They were released two days later after the intervention of local tribal elders. Masked gunmen kidnapped another six-member polio vaccination team southwest of Peshawar earlier last month. Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year, up from 58 in 2012. Pakistan’s failure to defeat polio stands in stark contrast to its neighbour and great rival India, which recently celebrated the eradication of polio three years after its last case. The WHO has warned that Peshawar, the main city of the northwest, is the world’s “largest reservoir” of polio. Afghanistan and Nigeria are the other countries where the disease persists. Victims are left dead, paralysed or with withered limbs.