Ignorance Is Fatal – Brian Cloughley

The Pakistan Army has been ordered “to assist in providing security to polio vaccinators in the country”. This is a welcome development, because it will save lives, yet it is also a terrible commentary on present-day Pakistan, because if any country has to rely on its army to protect medical staff performing simple humanitarian duties anywhere within its borders, then that nation has a very serious problem.

There are important non-medical aspects of the campaign against polio, not least of which was illustrated by a report in this very newspaper that “Pakistan is trying to find solutions to the largely political barriers that currently stand in the way of polio eradication.”

Let’s get this straight: there is no political barrier whatever standing in the way of polio eradication. The barrier has been put up by fanatics.

Look at what happened to those who have spoken out against the rabid zealots. It’s all very well for me, 3,000 miles away, to pontificate on such matters. Maybe if I still lived in Islamabad I would refrain from doing so – which is also a dreadful observation on what’s going on.

There is a warped interpretation of religion which presents a barrier to polio vaccination campaigns being carried out. I use the word ‘warped’ because no religion could possibly be against any measure that can protect human beings against a deadly disease. By definition, such action is perverted and bizarre. All religions, of whatever complexity they may be, must be firmly against murdering or maiming babies. But denial of polio vaccine can do exactly that.

When ignorant vicious loonies murder health workers they are not only killing decent people who are doing their best for their fellow human beings, they are sentencing innocent children to death or to lives of appalling physical incapacity.

Those who obstruct and deny delivery of polio vaccine are killing and maiming babies through horribly mistaken conviction. And they will be eternally damned. But that isn’t much good to suffering children and their distraught families. 

Last month the World Health Organisation’s Director General, the saintly Dr Margaret Chan, visited Pakistan, and The News reported that the country “had made significant progress against polio in 2012, when the number of children paralysed by the virus declined to 58 as compared to 199 in 2013. Currently, however, an explosive outbreak has paralyzed 24 children already this year, 21 of them in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, mostly in North Waziristan. Local leaders there have banned polio vaccination since June 2012. This situation threatens children in the polio-free parts of Pakistan and constitutes a risk to the rest of the world.”

The danger is enormous. And it has been caused by maniacs who don’t only threaten the lives of children but constitute the gravest threat to the very existence of Pakistan. This is because they are so ignorant, so totally devoid of any common sense, objectivity or indeed sanity that they could destroy the country.

The fanatics who threaten Pakistan are out of control. Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, announced that “We are forced to end our 40-day ceasefire as the government, despite having a ceasefire, continued violence against our people.” It is amazing that a leader of an armed rebel movement in any country can announce that his terrorist organisation will not explode their bombs “in public places” but would continue to attack “government places.”

This pronouncement is as horrifying as it is brutally intimidating. No government in the world can accept such a declaration of war.

Since the TPP began its campaign of murder and mayhem in 2007 more than 6,800 citizens of Pakistan have been killed by their attacks throughout the country. This has caused the so-called cleric Abdul Aziz, the superman of the Lal Masjid rebellion who ran away from the army dressed in a burqa instead of standing and fighting for his beliefs, to declare that “I think that there is no state in Pakistan, there is the law of the jungle here…democracy in this country is a method of stealing.” That, too, is a declaration of war. And it needs to be met by force.

The gallant Abdul Aziz has inaugurated his seminary library in honour of Osama bin Laden, whom he called a “martyr” and a “hero of Islam” because he venerates those who kill innocent people if they do that in the name of what he calls religious conviction. The man is an intellectual simpleton – but nonetheless dangerous for that, because he has an enormous following of semi-educated fanatics whose knowledge of the world is restricted to what they are told in the seminaries. 

There are 1.5 million young people being dangerously indoctrinated in these madressahs, and the new National Internal Security Policy paper observed that an unspecified number of these “impinge on national internal security” and are “cultivating non-tolerant and violent religious attitudes.”

Of course they do. And one of their main leaders is a man who (apart from being a physical and moral coward) is intent on destroying democracy. He won’t face any bullets himself, because he will get his dupes to stand in the front line – and they will do that because they are ignorant of decency and human values. They have been brainwashed into believing propaganda put out by such as Abdul Aziz, who wants to destroy Pakistan as a country.

The time has come for Pakistan to eradicate people who teach, encourage and practice violence against the state and to make education accessible and liberal, because ignorance is fatal. It will take enormous courage for the government to do this. But it can be done. And the army is waiting for orders to be given. PM Nawaz Sharif could go down in history as a man who changed the world. We should wish him the resolution to choose that destiny.