KHYBER AGENCY - Militants kidnapped 11 teachers carrying out a polio vaccination campaign for schoolchildren from Sepah area of tehsil Bara, a sub-division of Khyber agency on Saturday, officials said

Agency Surgeon Khyber Dr Sameen Shinwari confirmed the incident and said 11 local teachers had been assigned the duty of polio immunisation in the anti-polio campaign.  “On the evening of the last day of the drive, the workers were on their way to homes after discharging their duties, when unidentified armed men abducted them on gun point,” he said.

The dwellers of the area said the Bara-based defunct militant organisations never allowed to resume anti-polio campaign in the area. “The workers have been shifted to unknown destination and the security agencies have launched a search operation in the area to trace them,” officials said.  It is important to mention here that 16 polio cases have been detected in Khyber agency so far, mostly in Bara in the current year.

Agencies add: The teachers were taken from the private Hira Public School in the Bara area of the Khyber Agency. Local official Khyali Gul said the gunmen took the teachers to an area controlled by militant leader Mangal Bagh and his Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Islam group. “Mangal Bagh and his men are opposing polio vaccination for children and don’t allow teams to immunise children in their areas,” Gul said.

Another Khyber official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the teachers had been taken to an area where security forces cannot enter due to presence of militants. It was expected they would be released following negotiations with local elders, the official said.

Gunmen frequently attack polio vaccination workers in Pakistan. Militants accuse them of being Western spies or part of a plot to sterilise Muslims. One militant leader said he would only allow vaccinations in his area unless US drone strikes stopped.

A global eradication campaign has reduced polio cases by 99.9 per cent in the last three decades, but it remains endemic in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There were just 223 cases last year, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, but as long as the disease remains in pockets it can reinfect countries previously cleared. The disease is highly infectious and can cause irreversible paralysis.