Samiul Haq renounces support for polio immunisation


One of Pakistan’s most influential clerics has renounced his previous support for polio immunisation, claiming that the programme was a cover for American spies, dealing a fresh blow to efforts to rid the world of the crippling virus.
Samiul Haq, nicknamed the father of the Taliban for his role in educating many of the Afghan students who rose up to capture Kabul in the 1990s, also offered foreign governments a chilling deal: end American drone strikes or leave children unprotected.
He had been an unlikely ally of the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. Earlier this year, Haq administered polio drops to his grandson and urged followers to do the same. But he now says he cannot back the policy after it emerged the CIA had used a fake hepatitis drive to hunt for Osama bin Laden last year. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who organised the vaccination campaign, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison and sparked a wave of paranoia about foreign aid workers. “The moral behind imposing a ban on the vaccination is not about whether it is un-Islamic or not, but the moral comes from the case of Shakil Afridi,” said Haq in an interview with The Daily Telegraph. “The people who are involved in this campaign, many agencies are involved, and they are using it for their other causes.”
Pakistan is one of three countries where the disease remains endemic. Only 22 cases have been reported this year – compared with 59 in the same period in 2011 – and hopes were high that the country could soon be declared polio free. However, hard-line clerics have long opposed what they suspect is a Western conspiracy against Muslims. Their opposition meant health workers carefully cultivated moderate leaders, who issued fatwas – or religious rulings – declaring vaccination to be in line with Islamic teaching. But he explained that while immunisation might be permitted by Islam, it made no sense for foreign agencies to try to keep children free from disease while at the same time bombing Pakistan.