The Polio Murders

Spearhead Analysis – 21.12.12

ttp-gunmen-kill-six-polio-workersA series of attacks on anti-polio vaccinators with several killed and injured has led to a halt in the UN and WHO backed drive to eradicate polio from Pakistan. Pakistan is one of the very few countries in the world where polio still exists as a threat to children. Till these attacks the resistance to the vaccinations was limited to remote backward areas of the country mostly in the north and west where ignorance led to suspicions about motives. In the rest of the country polio had been almost eradicated. The new violence puts thousands of children at risk besides badly eroding the already tarnished image of the country in the world.

The pattern of attacks is eerily similar. Motor cycle riding armed men carrying out carefully targeted killings of the mostly female vaccinators and their drivers in selected areas so far confined to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi areas, though at least one threatened attack has been reported in Lahore. This attack pattern is similar to the sectarian attacks that have been taking place in Baluchistan and Karachi areas. The victims are soft targets – the foot soldiers of the well funded and organized campaign to eliminate polio. Those carrying out the attacks are obviously doing so as part of an orchestrated and planned strategy with a definite objective. These are not random killings.

The motive could be to bring the foreign funded campaign to a halt just because it is foreign funded. This does not make sense because there are other foreign funded projects that are not threatened so far. There could be objections to the vaccination on religious grounds by people who have their own interpretation of religion but no such views have surfaced. Like the sectarian attacks these killings could be to destabilize the country, destroy its image as a country that is fully governed and project the helplessness of the government against those with radical views and their own agendas. If true this would make these killings part of the overall process of destabilizing Pakistan and link these to the other violence in the country including kidnappings for ransom. The immediate impact has been to bring the campaign to a halt and this goes against the country on many counts but especially because Pakistan starts looking like a country that does not have the capacity to sustain funded projects. This has far reaching implications therefore an answer has to be found to make sure that the campaign restarts and continues. This means confronting and defeating the threat – something that has not been done so far.

Pakistan is in the unenviable position of being a country in which the cracks and fissures that are kept latent through effective governance have widened to near uncontrollable proportions.  Besides tearing the fabric of society apart these have become exploitable vulnerabilities blurring the line between internal and external threats. Internal security, of which human security is an inseparable part, must be accorded the highest priority in our risk assessment and response options.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)