Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, who is the Rotary International ambassador for polio eradication, has formally invited Maryam Nawaz and Reham Khan to “join hand and help accelerate polio eradication programs across the country”, which is admirable and must be appreciated. It is just unacceptable that Pakistan is unable to get a handle on a problem that almost all the world has solved. And it is even more inconceivable that Pakistan remains a country where it is possible for regressive elements to sell the narrative that polio cause infertility, or polio drops are actually drone beacons, but it is not possible to convince people that polio is a debilitating disease that will ruin the lives of their children.
It must not be forgotten that the fight against polio has become an integral part of the expanding war against terrorism. The Taliban, and such elements, have openly targeted polio workers as part of their war against the state, primarily because of the Dr Shakeel Afridi incident. The doctor, part of a secret CIA team to track Osama bin Laden, leveraged polio concerns to get access to OBL’s children, and hence his DNA. But since then even though the Taliban have used the anti-polio drive as a bedrock of its actions, the government has been unable to erect a counter narrative or provide adequate security to polio workers.
The fight against terror needs to be wholesome. If all angles are not addressed, the bombs and bullets currently being employed in Waziristan will not serve their purpose. The Taliban have taken much of Pakistan many decades, if not centuries, into the past. Clawing our way back to the future will take much effort. And while the army is busy with the dirty fight, it is up to the politicians to take up the more subtle parts of this struggle. That is why young Aseefa’s initiative is that much more admirable. If our mainstream politicians remain blind to some of our most troubling problems, why not the likes of Aseefa, Maryam and Reham take the initiative instead? They serve the dual purpose of rallying crucial support and cutting across party lines, especially in present times of animosity. This initiative must be followed through.