Pakistani militants based in a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold located within the tribal region of North Waziristan on Saturday banned anti-polio vaccination teams, to protest against US drone strikes, saying the attacks were killing civilians.
“Anti-polio vaccination teams will not be allowed to administer polio drops among children in North Waziristan,” local warlord Gul Bahadur said in a statement.
Bahadur, who is allied with the Afghan Taliban fighting US-led troops across the border, said the ban will remain effective until the US stops executing drone attacks in the tribal regions.
“On the one hand they are killing innocent women, children and old people in drone attacks and on the other they are spending millions on vaccination campaign,” the statement distributed in the region’s main town Miranshah said.
It said “the day and night US drone flights in Waziristan are causing mental illness in the local population which is more dangerous than polio.”
Residents said people would respond to the call as Bahadur commands influence in the region.
The area of Pakistan has been witnessing increasing drone strikes amid a stalemate in US-Pakistan talks to end a blockade on NATO supplies crossing into Afghanistan.
Pakistan shut NATO supply lines in anger over US air strikes on a border post on Nov. 26 last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The statement, citing the case of Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi, jailed for helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden, also slammed the immunization campaign saying that it may be used for espionage purposes.
Afridi was arrested after US troops killed bin Laden in May last year in the town of Abbottabad, where he set up a fake vaccination program in the hope of obtaining DNA samples to identify the al-Qaeda leader. He was sentenced to 33 years in jail on May 23.
Pakistani authorities whipped up anti-US sentiment after the bin Laden raid calling the drone strikes a violation of national sovereignty, but US officials consider the attacks a vital weapon in the war against Islamist extremists, despite concerns from rights activists over civilian casualties.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently called for a UN investigation into US drone strikes in Pakistan, questioning their legality and saying they kill innocent civilians.