The Taliban have banned an anti-polio campaign in Pakistan, accusing health workers of spying for the US
A Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan near the frontier with Afghanistan. Photograph: Declan Walsh
A senior Taliban commander has effectively banned polio eradication in one of the most troubled areas of the Pakistan frontier in an effort to force the US to end drone strikes.
Leaflets distributed in South Waziristan on behalf of Mullah Nazir, the leader of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata) accused health workers who administer anti-polio drops of being US spies.
"In the garb of these vaccination campaigns, the US and its allies are running their spying networks in Fata which has brought death and destruction on them in the form of drone strikes," the leaflet said.
It also questioned the sincerity of international efforts to tackle the highly infectious disease.
"On the one hand, they are killing innocent children in drone strikes, while on the other hand they are saving their lives by vaccinating them," the printed note said.
The ban is yet another setback for the polio eradication campaign in Pakistan, which is one of just three countries in the world where children are still struck down by the disease.
It is the third time a Taliban leader has banned polio vaccinations in areas they control.
Earlier this month, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan, made similar claims about polio vaccinations being used for spying and banned any further work until drone attacks end. In 2007, Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Taliban in Swat, deterred people from having their children vaccinated, saying it was a plot by foreign powers to sterilise Muslims.
Drone strikes have intensified in recent months, particularly following the Nato conference in Chicago in May when the Pakistani government failed to deliver on promises to open its borders to supply convoys carrying goods to Nato troops in Afghanistan.
North and South Waziristan are where the vast bulk of US missile strikes by drone aircraft have taken place.
The leaflet raised the case of Shakil Afridi, the frontier doctor who ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign in Abbottabad as cover for a CIA effort to find intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
Afridi, who has since been arrested and jailed by Pakistani authorities, provided important help in the hunt for the US's most wanted man, the former director of the CIA has said.
But humanitarian organisations have been outraged by the use of vaccination as a cover for spying, saying it has entrenched suspicions in the tribal areas about their work.
The new prime minister of Pakistan said on Monday he would formally protest to Kabul after militants killed 13 Pakistani troops, beheading seven of them.
Officials said the militants carried out the attack in Pakistan's Upper Dir area from bases inside Afghanistan.
"We have strongly protested and I will, too, God willing, talk about this to [Afghan president Hamid] Karzai," said Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, speaking in Karachi.
Police officials in eastern Afghanistan have denied the claim.