Taliban Vaccination Ban: Paranoia or Based in Fact?

Reports Declan Walsh for the New York Times on June 18:

A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were due to be vaccinated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden.

The commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said that polio vaccinations would be banned until the C.I.A. stopped its drone campaign, which has been largely focused on North Waziristan.

One’s initial instinct is to chalk it off to Taliban dogmatism and savgery. But, their suspicions may be warranted. Walsh refreshes our memories about Dr. Afridi.

In March and April 2011, Dr. Afridi ran a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad that was designed to covertly determine whether Osama bin Laden lived in a house in the city. Dr. Afridi failed to obtain a DNA sample, a senior American official said, but did help establish that Bin Laden’s local protector, known as “the courier,” was inside the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.

Dr. Afridi was arrested three weeks after American Navy SEALs raided the house on May 2, 2011, killing the Al Qaeda leader. But the Abbottabad operation was not his only vaccination campaign.

American officials say Dr. Afridi had been working with the C.I.A. for several years, at a time when he was leading polio vaccination efforts in Khyber Agency, a corner of the tribal belt that harbors a rare strain of the disease.

Western aid workers have sharply criticized the C.I.A. for recruiting a medical personnel and have complained of harsh restrictions on their work imposed by suspicious Pakistani authorities.

For their part

American officials say Dr. Afridi was targeting a mutual enemy of Pakistan and the United States.

And polio isn’t?