KARACHI - Dashing cricketer Shahid Afridi is to front efforts to eradicate polio from Pakistan, going head-to-head with militants who have banned vaccinations in an Al-Qaeda-linked stronghold on the Afghan border.

The charismatic former Pakistan captain was born in Khyber district and campaigners hope his Pashto credentials can persuade parents to inoculate their children. “It is a noble cause and I am happy to be part of smashing polio from Pakistan which has crippled many children,” Afridi told AFP. He said the main target was remote areas of the country, such as the Al-Qaeda and Taliban infested tribal belt on the Afghan border. “I am from that area and speak their language, so I will try to go door-to-door to remove any negative concept about the campaign and I hope this will help us raise healthy future generations,” added Afridi. The campaign is being run by Pakistan and UNICEF. Aseefa, the younger daughter of President Asif Ali Zardari and assassinated ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is also an ambassador for the cause. “It’s my duty to help mankind as the Almighty has given me stature, so I am ready to do any social work which helps human beings,” said Afridi. Local Taliban warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur has banned anti-polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan to protest against US drone attacks. Taliban say the drone strikes kill civilians and have condemned the immunisation campaign as a cover for espionage.

Doctor Shakeel Afridi was jailed for 33 years in May after helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden through a fake hepatitis vaccination programme.

Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.

The highly infectious disease affects mainly the under-fives and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours. Some cases can be fatal.