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Taliban bans Pakistan polio vaccinations over drone strikes

Anja Niedringhaus / AP file

A Pakistani child is given a polio vaccination by a district health team worker outside a children's hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan on May 30, 2012.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A Taliban commander in Pakistan’s tribal belt has banned a vaccination campaign against child polio in protest over frequent United States drone attacks there.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur said that the U.S.-funded vaccinations for tens of thousands of children would be outlawed until drone attacks stopped.

He also said the polio campaign could be a cover for CIA espionage – a reference to Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor reported to have helped American agencies identify Osama bin Laden.

A pamphlet issued in Miranshah, North Waziristan and seen by NBC News accused the U.S. of “spending billions of rupees” on anti-polio measures while causing psychological disorders “due to drone strikes and round the clock hovering of spy planes over homes and villages”.

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“This situation created by U.S. drone strikes is more dangerous than the polio virus,” the pamphlet said.

Pakistan is one of the three countries where polio remains endemic, according to UNICEF, accounting for about 30 percent of the world’s the polio cases. During 2011, the total number of cases was 198, up from 144 cases in 2010. There have already been 15 cases since the start of 2012.

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Out of the seven tribal regions, North Waziristan was perhaps one of the only places where local Ulema - or religious scholars - had issued a decree in favor of polio drops for children. The Taliban had also guaranteed the security of vaccination teams.

Afridi, a Pakistan government doctor working for the CIA, used a vaccination campaign as a cover to collect DNA samples from Osama bin Laden's family members in Abbottabad – a move that helped identify the al-Qaeda leader, paving the way for his killing in May 2011.

Afridi was given a 33-year prison term for treason following a trial last month.

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