Tuesday October 24, 2017

Detection of a rare strain of Polio in Pakistan’s Balochistan alarms authorities

A five-day response campaign across the provincial capital of Quetta has started in January

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FILE - A Pakistani health worker gives a polio vaccine to a child in Karachi, Pakistan, Dec. 1, 2016. Polio remains endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned vaccinations, instigated attacks targeting medical staffers and spread suspicions about the vaccine. VOA

Detection of a rare strain of polio in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province has alarmed authorities and prompted them to launch special immunisation campaigns for children younger than 5.

After concluding a five-day response campaign across the provincial capital of Quetta earlier this month, health officials said they plan to give anti-polio drops starting January 16 to millions of children across 27 districts of the province, including those near the Afghan border.

The new, intensified immunization effort follows detection of the rare Type 2 strain of polio, which the World Health Organization found in sewage samples in one of the districts in the province.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where the crippling virus is still active.

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Remarkable progress

Despite security challenges and administrative weaknesses in national immunization efforts, Pakistan’s anti-polio fight achieved remarkable progress in 2015 when the country of about 200 million reported only 19 cases, down from a record of 309 cases in 2014.

Aftab Kakar of the provincial emergency operation center in Quetta says that Type 2 polio struck about 15 children three years ago in the Killa Abdullah district toward the Afghan border.

But routine immunization campaigns coupled with special response efforts at the time stopped the transmission of the virus until WHO’s findings released a couple of weeks ago confirmed its re-emergence in Baluchistan, where only one polio case was reported in 2016, Kakar said.

“The international community has shown its concern over the detection of this (Type 2) virus in Pakistan because the rest of the world has eliminated it and reported no new cases for years,” he noted.

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Type 2 virus

Pakistan stopped vaccinating children against the Type 2 polio during routine immunization campaigns since last April, believing the strain had been successfully eliminated from the country as in the rest of the world, Kakar said.

“Now, our major concern and fear is that the group of children who were born after April 2016 are not immunized against Type 2 poliovirus. That group is now vulnerable and is in danger of contracting the virus,” he warned.

On Wednesday, provincial health officials reported the first polio case of the new year in Killa Abdullah, but the strain of the virus was not known immediately.

Border campaign

Baluchistan shares a nearly 1,200-kilometer border with Afghanistan and as many as 20,000 people move across the main Chaman border crossing everyday, where special vaccinating teams are deployed to ensure children moving in both directions are given anti-polio drops.

Col. Changez Zeb, in charge of Pakistani border forces, explained the anti-polio operation to VOA during a visit to the busy crossing point.

“This is the sign of the polio vaccination,” he said while pointing to the inked fingers of three young Afghan children driven in an improvised cart by their parents after receiving the medicine. “The polio team has given them the vaccination while entering and while exiting from Pakistan. They have three to four teams here. If one of them misses (the children) the other one catches them.”

Pakistani authorities insist that successes against polio is the outcome of national immunization efforts coupled with recruiting hundreds of thousands of influential Muslim clerics to persuade parents in remote, relatively conservative districts who used to resist the vaccination drops for their children because of religious beliefs or suspicions it would hurt fertility.

The refusals and militant threats to vaccinating teams undermined anti-polio drives in recent years. But Kakar says that refusals have lately dropped from thousands to hundreds, while improved security in Baluchistan has also played a key role in conducting effective immunization campaigns.

Extremist groups view anti-polio campaigns as a cover for Western spies, prompting deadly attacks on vaccinators during immunization campaigns across Pakistan. A bomb explosion in January 2016 killed 15 people outside a vaccination center in Quetta. The anti-state Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bloodshed.

Opposition is also blamed on a fake CIA-sponsored immunization campaign that led to the famous May 2011 covert American military raid against fugitive al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, killing the world’s most wanted man. (VOA)

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Zeenat Shahzadi, Missing Pakistani Woman Journalist Fighting For Jailed Indian, Found After Two Years

A Pakistani woman journalist who was allegedly kidnapped while pursuing the case of an Indian engineer two years ago has been rescued

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Zeenat Shahzadi
Zeenat Shahzadi had allegedly been kidnapped in Pakistan's Lahore city in 2015. Twitter.

Lahore October 21:  It was reported by PTI that A Pakistani journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi had “forcibly disappeared” while working on the case of Indian citizen Hamid Ansari.

  • A Pakistani journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi who was allegedly kidnapped two years ago has been rescued.
  • Zeenat Shahzadi, a 26-year-old reporter of Daily Nai Khaber and Metro News TV channel, was kidnapped by unidentified men while she was reaching her home in Lahore on August 19, 2015.
  • She was pursuing the case of an Indian engineer jailed in Peshawar on espionage charges.

The chief of Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal said that Shahzadi was retrieved nearby the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on Thursday night. He also mentioned the key roles of tribals from Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces in her recovery.

Zeenat Shahzadi
Rescue of Pakistani Journalist is celebrated in Pakistan. Twitter.

Ansari, a resident of Mumbai had been arrested for illegally invading Pakistan from Afghanistan to meet a girl he had befriended online in 2012. He was convicted to three years imprisonment on charges of spying and entering Pakistan illegally.

On Shahzadi being kidnapped, her brother Saddam Hussain committed suicide in March last year, making the situation an importance by the media.

Human rights activists, including former Secretary General of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IA Rehman, have raised their voice to set Ansari free since he has completed to serve his sentence.

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Pakistan Elected to UN Human Rights Council along with 14 other countries

The new members will serve a three-year term from January 1, 2018

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UN General Assembly elect 15 new members of Human Rights Council. Wikimedia

United Nations, October 17, 2017 : Fifteen countries, including Pakistan, have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council by the UN General Assembly.

In a vote on Monday, Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Qatar, Senegal, Slovakia, Spain and Ukraine were elected, a Foreign Office statement said.

They will serve a three-year term from January 1, 2018. (IANS)

 

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Pakistan Electoral Body Bars Political Party Due to Terror Ties

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Sheikh Yaqub
Sheikh Yaqub (C) candidate of the newly-formed Milli Muslim League party, waves to his supporters at an election rally in Lahore, Pakistan. voa

Pakistan’s Election Commission (ECP) on Wednesday rejected the registration application of a newly established political party with alleged ties to a banned militant group in the country.

Milli Muslim League (MML) has been disqualified to participate in the country’s state and general elections.

The electoral commission’s decision is said to be based on a request made earlier by the country’s Ministry of Interior Affairs, stating that Milli Muslim League is a front organization for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S.-designated terror sponsoring organization in Pakistan.

“The government is vigilant and under no circumstances will allow any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to spread their extremist ideology through democracy and political means,” Tallal Chaudhry, Pakistan’s minister of state for Interior Affairs, told VOA.

Saif Ullah Khalid, president of Milli Muslim League, dismissed the election commission’s decision and said the party will take the matter to the country’s judiciary.

Political wing

Milli Muslim League was established in August 2017 as a political wing for the controversial Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is believed to be a front organization for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group led by Hafiz Saeed.

Saeed was accused of masterminding Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

The U.S. government has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Saeed has been reportedly under house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore for the past eight months.

In September, during an important by-election in Lahore, when the National Assembly’s seat fell vacant following the disqualification of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the newly launched MML backed an independent candidate who finished fourth in the race for Sharif’s seat.

At the time, Pakistan’s upper house of parliament strongly criticized the country’s election commission for allowing JuD’s political wing, MML, to participate in the Lahore by-election.

Some experts were concerned about the emergence of militant groups joining mainstream politics in Pakistan. They maintain that the political trend seen in Lahore’s by-election, where parties linked to militant groups are able to mobilize and generate sufficient numbers of votes within a very short period of time, as alarming.

“There should be a debate on this sensitive issue through social, political and media channels. By allowing militant-based political parties to integrate into mainstream politics, it will only escalate radicalization in the society,” Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar based political analyst, told VOA.

“There are people who believe with the merger of such militant groups into politics, we’ll provide them an avenue to maintain a political presence without leaving their extreme ideologies,” Hussain added.

Army’s support

Earlier last week, Pakistan’s army acknowledged they are mulling over plans to blend the militant-linked political groups into the mainstream political arena.

Some analysts side with MML, arguing the party should be allowed to participate in elections.

“I do not understand in what capacity the election commission has rejected MML’s application to register as a party,” said Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, the head of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).

“Did they (MML) break any law? If not, how can you bar MML from entering the mainstream politics when they’re doing it through legitimate ways,” Mehboob emphasized.

Zubair Iqbal, a Washington-based South Asia expert, also raised concerns over the validity of the decision.

“This is how democracy works. … There are some extreme groups, some moderate groups and no one should be stopped because of their extreme ideologies,” Iqbal told VOA. “The extremist groups can be barred from entering into the politics only through people and democracy.”

“Unless these parties and individuals are allowed to participate in the political system they might never change their extreme ideologies and might continue operating underground which will prove to be more dangerous,” Iqbal added.

International pressure

In the past few years, Pakistan has faced escalating pressure from the international community for not being able to crackdown on militant groups enjoying safe havens in Pakistan and launching attacks in neighboring countries.

In his recent speech on the region, U.S President Trump put Pakistan on notice to take actions against safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistani officials deny the existence of safe havens on its soil.

Pakistan is also accused of being selective in its pursuit of terror groups. It allegedly goes after only those groups that pose a threat to the country’s national security, ignoring others that threat India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan rejects the allegations and reiterates its stance of having no sympathy for any terror group operating in the country.(VOA)