On Tuesday, four health workers were killed in Karachi while trying to distribute a polio vaccine to children. This is not an isolated incident: Four other health workers have been killed in the past four days. Police said that Taliban fighters based north of Peshawar were responsible for the deaths, although a Taliban spokesman denied responsibility.
Sadly, Pakistan is in dire need of polio vaccinations. as the NY Times reports:
The shootings represent the most direct assault yet on an urgently needed public health program in one of the world’s last remaining reservoirs of the polio virus. Pakistan is one of three countries were polio remains endemic—the others are Nigeria and Afghanistan—and it has made strong progress against the disease after a disastrous rate of infection last year.
So far in 2012, officials say, Pakistan has recorded 56 new polio cases, compared with 192 at the same point in 2011. The turnaround is due to a series of nationwide immunization drives targeting children under 5, which can involve up to 225,000 public health workers.
In addition to targeting aid workers directly, the Taliban have also manipulated this need for political gain:
But the Taliban have also used the polio campaign—a rare effort by the government to extend its authority into the tribal belt—for raw political purposes. In North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a major Taliban-affiliated warlord, has banned polio vaccination until America halts drone strikes in the area.
In response, the UN has suspended all polio immunizations in the area following the attacks and has told its workers to stay off the streets. With aid workers pulling back from the region, vaccinations will decrease, and thousands of Pakistanis may die as a result of these horrifying attacks.
This systematic assault on polio vaccination workers in Karachi by evil thugs who claim the mantle of Islam tells you everything you need to know about the values of this depraved and destructive movement. These acts showcase the foul stew of ignorance, hatred, and prejudice that is the Taliban. The incapacity of the Pakistani state and civil society (including religious leadership) to deal with this phenomenon is one of the most dangerous manifestations of Pakistani state failure, and is incredibly sad.