Unknown gunmen on Tuesday killed a polio vaccinator in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, highlighting resistance to the country’s immunization campaign, officials said.
The shooting happened in the Killi Jeo area of provincial capital Quetta a day after a three-day campaign began across the country, senior Pakistani government official Tariq Mengal told reporters.
Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, is plagued by sectarian violence between the minority Shiite and majority Sunni community, as well as by Taliban attacks and a separatist insurgency.
The Taliban have banned immunizations in some areas, condemning the campaign as a cover for espionage since a Pakistani doctor was jailed after helping the CIA track down former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden using a hepatitis vaccination program.
In Tuesday’s incident, a team of male and female vaccinators was engaged in a door-to-door campaign to administer polio drops to children below five years of age when unknown gunmen on a motorbike shot dead a male volunteer, Mengal said.
The campaign has been suspended in several areas of Quetta as the shooting sparked fear among the vaccinators, he said.
Pakistan is one of only three countries where the highly infectious crippling disease remains endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria.
There have been 30 confirmed cases of polio in Pakistan this year according to the government, 22 of them in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
In related news, Pakistani soldiers fired heavy weapons into Indian Kashmir and killed three civilians on Tuesday, the Indian Ministry of Defense said, in the latest reported skirmish between the rival nations.
They opened fire near the village of Churunda, near the Line of Control that acts as the de facto border in the Kashmir region, Indian officials said.
“Pakistani troops ... started firing heavy-caliber weapons on the houses of civilians of Churunda village resulting in the death of three civilians,” the statement said.
Pakistani army officials blamed the clash on “unprovoked” Indian fire on a Pakistan army post.
“Indian troops initiated unprovoked fire on Pakistan army post to which Pakistani troops responded,” a Pakistani army official said.
Local residents have reported sporadic small-arms exchanges between Indian and Pakistani troops in the same sector for the past fortnight.
Tensions between the countries last flared in the wake of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants and “official agencies” of Pakistan, a charge Islamabad has denied.
Two of the three wars between India and Pakistan have been fought over divided Kashmir, which both countries claim in full.