Pakistan TV channels are showing ‘Boom, Boom Afridi’, asking his viewers in Urdu and Pushto whether they would select crutches or a bat for their children. In fact, this message is for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghan refugees living in tribal areas and elsewhere who are reluctant or have refused to permit vaccination of their children against polio virus. It is being estimated that over 250,000 children in tribal areas alone will not receive polio vaccination this year. The Taliban are on the offensive war footing to convince a large number of tribal Pashtuns that polio vaccine is being administrated on the behest of the West and it is to sterilise their children. To counter this false propaganda, the UN has nominated Shahid Afridi, himself a Pashtun from Khyber tribal agency, as Polio Champion for this cricket-crazy nation. How far Afridi will be able to convince his people, only time will tell. However, things appear to be more difficult this year as some of the tribal commanders, who generally don’t take a fight with the Pakistan Army such as Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, have also banned the vaccination in areas under their control. They have conditioned the polio vaccination with the stoppage of drone attacks. Wish someone may tell these Taliban commanders that in the absence of vaccination, there is no need for drone attacks. They are intentionally risking the lives of thousands of their innocent children, then why do they need another enemy? Unfortunately we are entrapped in an anti-West fever, will not gain anything positive for our children. No one shall be surprised with the sharp increase in polio cases in Pakistan .

One fears that this virus, if not controlled at this stage, may spill over to other countries. Pakistan , Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three unfortunate countries where polio vaccination campaigns have been hampered by self-appointed religious reformers (in case of Pakistan and Afghanistan , it is the Taliban and in Nigeria, it is Boko Haram who have stopped the vaccination). It is a failure on the part of government, the media, civil society and religious scholars who are way behind in this fight against ignorance and darkness. It is so unfortunate.

MASOOD KHAN,

Saudi Arabia, July 23