Pakistani Taliban Targets Health Workers

January 2, 2013

Five female teachers and two health workers were gunned down by militants in Pakistan yesterday in what appears to be the latest in a series of attacks targeting anti-polio efforts in that country.

Four militants on motorcycles were responsible for the deaths of the workers. Only the young son of one of the women who was riding in the van and the van’s driver were spared. The militants reportedly pulled the boy from the van before spraying it with bullets. Both survivors were being treated at a Peshawar hospital.

All seven victims worked at a community center in the Pakistani town of Swabi which included a primary school and a medical clinic that vaccinated children against polio. The Pakistani Taliban opposes vaccination campaigns, often accusing health workers of acting as spies for the U.S.; furthermore, the Pakistani Taliban alleges such vaccines are intended to make Muslim children sterile.

The history of the Pakistani Taliban targeting vaccination campaigns goes back to the killing of Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani doctor was enlisted to help the CIA locate bin Laden, and he used a fake polio vaccination campaign as a cover for his intelligence work. This doctor was later arrested by Pakistani authorities for spying, and, out of this narrative, militants began claiming that all of the medical community in Pakistan was suspect of working with the United States.

Many popular conspiracy theories among Pakistanis have been augmented to include medical professionals. Some militants even assert that Pakistan’s whole medical community is a cover for an elaborate spy network.

U.S. Drone in Pakistan

U.S. Drone in Pakistan

Fears of spying currently run rampant in Pakistan. The government is attempting to quell some of these fears by reportedly building its own fleet of aerial drones. Any Pakistani drones produced would be crude by U.S. standards, and the American government is refusing to share its drone technology with Pakistan; however, there has been chatter that China could provide Pakistan with any needed technology, or that the drones may be built in China and shipped to Pakistan.

What could be some of the consequences of Pakistan, or any other nation, using drone technology as the United States has? The U.S. has used drones all over the world to kill terrorists. U.S. drones have killed citizens of other countries, over borders, without sanction from the United Nations. What if Pakistan or another country started doing the same, and then pointed at the U.S. use of drones as setting a precedent? If Pakistani drones operated within Afghanistan, on what grounds could the United States object? Iran and China are both reportedly producing their own drone fleets. What happens when Hamas starts using drones against Israel? Israel already employs the use of drones to assassinate Palestinian targets. Could Pakistan’s drones antagonize India into creating a fleet of its own drones? Are we at the beginning of a new, lower stakes, arms race?

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is still an epidemic. There has been a nation-wide campaign to fight this disease; however, this campaign is seriously threatened by the continued attacks on health workers.

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