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Army security suggested for polio teams

By Ikram Junaidi 2015-03-20
ISLAMABAD: A highlevel meeting on Thursday agreed to recommend to the Cabinet Committee on Immunisation (CCI) that the provinces should be advised to seek assistance from civilIan law-enforcement agencies or the armed forces, where necessary, to ensure foolproof security for areas where anti-pollo drives were being conducted.

The decision was made after a brieEng and discussion, where it was revealed that some of the suspects involved in attacks on polio teams had no connection with the Taliban and were not even opposed to the idea of immunisation and had attacked polio teams to destabilise the country.

The meeting was attendedby representatives of the armed forces, the ministries of interior and national health services (NHS), the United Nations Children`s Fund (Unicef) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Chaired by NHS Minister Saira Afzal Tarar, the meeting was held to take stock following fatal attacks on polio workers in Mansehra and Bajaur, which left four workers, including two Lady Health Workers (LHWs) dead and one injured during an immunisation campaign on March 17 and 18.

Brigadier Tariq, on behalf of General Headquarters (GHQ), assured participants that the army was willing and always ready to support and protect polio workers wherever required.

The meeting decided that the CCI should be asked to advice provinces that they shouldn`t hesitate to seeking assistance from the armed forces where necessary.

The CCI consists of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif andNHS Minister Saira Afzal Tarar.

According to an official statement, Director General National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) Saud Aziz gave a detailed briefing on poliorelated security incidents and briefed participants on coordination between the Interior Ministry and provincial governments.

A representative of the armed forces briefed the meeting on the support being provided by the military in the polio eradication effort. The meeting also reviewed different proposals and options for risk mitigation and harm reduction for the polio teams, the press release said.

It was agreed that postincident inquiries would be conducted following any polio-related attack. Such an inquiry will be conducted by a team consisting of a representative of the ministry of interior, an official from the intelligence agencies, a representative of the district police officer and an expert representing the polio programme.

NHS Minister Saira AfzalTarar told Dawn that unfortunately police officials were also just as vulnerable as health workers.

`The security plan should be area-specific. Police officials are just sent by the authorities without any plan; they should be aware of how they have to guard polio workers,` she said.

`In Mansehra, where three workers were killed on March 17, accessing the area was so difficult that even the DPO reached the spot two hours af ter the incident,` Ms Tarar said.

`Brigadier Tariq said that there are army units in different areas of the country.

There was even an army unit in Mansehra so security could have been provided easily,` she said.

`But the army cannot support teams without a request made by the government, so I have asked the DG NCMC to write to the chief secretaries of all provinces and advise them that they should request the army`s help where necessary. I will also talk to Mr Nisar about the situation, she said.