Pakistani Taleban deny anti-polio attacks

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - The Pakistani Taleban on Friday denied any involvement in attacks on polio workers, which have killed 21 people since December, but confirmed it opposed the vaccination as "un-Islamic". The umbrella militant faction last year banned polio vaccinations in the tribal region of Waziristan, alleging the campaign was a cover for espionage.

Rumours about vaccines being a plot to sterilise Muslims have also dogged efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease in Pakistan, one of only three countries where it remains endemic.

"We have no link with the attacks on polio teams," Mr Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) told AFP.

"We have very strong reservations against anti-polio vaccines because they are un-Islamic and bad for the health," Mr Ehsan said.

He said Pakistanis do not need "sympathy" from the United Nations (UN), which funds vaccination programmes, while US drone strikes target Taleban and Al-Qaeda operatives in the northwestern border areas with Afghanistan.

Polio cases in Pakistan hit 198 in 2011, the highest figure for more than a decade and the most of any country in the world, according to the UN.

Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only two other countries were the disease is endemic.

The Taleban spokesman on Thursday claimed responsibility for the murder of a candidate for the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the southern city of Hyderabad, the first candidate to die in the campaign for elections next month.

The polls will mark the first democratic transition after a civilian government has completed a full-term in office in the nuclear-armed country, which has been subject to extended periods of military rule.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.