Tuesday February 19, 2019

Polio Vaccination Team Members Killed in Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where polio is still endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria

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Relatives mourn a female anti-polio drive campaign worker who was shot to death by gunmen, at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 18, 2018.
Relatives mourn a female anti-polio drive campaign worker who was shot to death by gunmen, at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 18, 2018. VOA

Two vaccination workers were killed and two were seriously wounded, officials said

Militants ambushed a polio vaccination team in a remote tribal region in Pakistan, killing two of the medical workers and seriously wounding another two, officials said Sunday.

The gunmen also attacked tribal police and the paramilitary Frontier Corps when they responded to the attack late Saturday, killing one paramilitary and wounding another.

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

Polio workers have come under attack on several occasions since it was revealed that the CIA used a polio vaccination campaign as a ruse to get information on Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. commandos in Pakistan in 2011.Those revelations fed into claims by Islamic extremists that the vaccinations are part of a Western plot against Muslims.

A boy receives polio vaccine drops by anti-polio vaccination workers along a street in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 2, 2017.
A boy receives polio vaccine drops by anti-polio vaccination workers along a street in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 2, 2017. VOA

ALSO READ: World Polio Day: Anti-Polio drive in Balochistan kicks off Today

An official in Pakistan’s restive Mohmand Agency, Younus Khan, said two workers from the seven-member polio vaccination team went missing after the attack but later returned unharmed. He says security forces are still searching for the attackers.

Jamaatul Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed the attack.

Khan said the bodies of the polio workers were handed over to relatives and their funeral will take place later in the day.

Provincial Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra condemned the attack, calling the polio workers heroes. VOA

Next Story

US-Taliban Meeting Cancelled, 14 Members on “The US and UN Blacklist”

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

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FILE - Taliban political chief Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, in the first row, second from left, Abdul Salam Hanafi and other Taliban officials pray during the intra-Afghan talks in Moscow, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

An upcoming meeting in Pakistan between a delegation of the United States and Taliban representatives has been cancelled, according to information coming from both sides.

A Taliban leader confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was cancelled, “by the Americans.” A Taliban statement issued later in the day said the talks were postponed because many members of its 14 person negotiating team were unable to go overseas since they are on “the US and UN blacklist.” Several of them are on the U.N. Security Council sanctions list which bars them from international travel.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official said Zalmay Khalilzad, who was supposed to lead the American delegation, is not planning to visit Islamabad this week.

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FILE – U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a roundtable discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

The U.S. said it had not received an official invitation from the government of Pakistan for this meeting which was first announced by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid a couple of days ago.

Mujahid’s statement had set February 18 as the date of the talks and said a formal invitation had been issued by Pakistan. In addition, he said, the Taliban delegation would also meet the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

A day later, Pakistan’s information minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the talks during a press conference, calling it a “game changer.”

“The next round of negotiations with the Taliban will be in Pakistan, and as a result of these negotiations, there is a chance of stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

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FILE – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this handout photo released Jan. 18, 2018. VOA

Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry reacted strongly to the announcement of a meeting in Islamabad, saying it was in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“#Afghanistan complains to #UNSecurityCouncil on #Pakistan’s engagements with the Taliban on which #Afg Govenrment is not consulted,” Tweeted Sibghatullah Admadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign office.

Previously, Afghanistan launched a similar complaint against Russia for allowing Taliban members to travel to Moscow for a conference in which nearly 50 Afghans, including various political leaders, former jihadi commanders, and civil society activists were invited. However, the Afghan government was not invited to that conference because the Taliban have so far refused to engage with the Kabul administration despite pressure from the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and others.

President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at those attending the conference saying they had no “executive authority” to make any agreements.

“Let hundreds of such meetings be held,” he said.

Some analysts say Ghani’s statements indicated his frustration at being left out of the negotiations between the Americans and the Taliban that first started last Summer. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks.

ALSO READ: ‘Big Progress’ in US-China Trade Talks, Says Trump

The last meeting in Doha early January lasted for six days and Khalilzad said the two sides had agreed “in principle” to a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in return for guarantees that Afghan soil will not be used by any terrorist groups or individuals.

Speaking in a public event at Washington based United States Institute of Peace, Khalilzad said the Taliban do not want to “sit with the government alone” because they did not want to give President Ghani an advantage in the presidential elections scheduled in July.

“There are indications that they will be willing to sit with the government in a multi-party arrangement,” he said. (VOA)