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December 15, 2013

Pakistan: Indian Polio Crackdown 'Unfortunate'

by Ayaz Gul

Officials in Pakistan have criticized as "overreaction" recent cross-border travel restrictions India has imposed to prevent the polio virus from entering the country.

Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan are the only three nations across the globe where the crippling disease remains endemic.

Last week, the Indian diplomatic mission in Islamabad announced that travelers from Pakistan, both adults and children, would require mandatory polio vaccination at least six weeks prior to undertaking a trip to India.

The mission said that that the policy, which will come into effect from January 30, 2014, was meant "to safeguard India's polio-free status attained after sustained efforts and investment".

But Pakistani authorities have criticized the move.

Pakistan's advisor on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, told reporters in Islamabad late on Saturday, "It [India's polio ban] is unfortunate. I think it is an overreaction because people traveling from Afghanistan [to India] face no such restrictions."

He added that Pakistan was strengthening its anti-polio drive so the disease did not become "a pretext" for denying visas to Pakistanis.

Indian officials, however, insist that the new policy is applicable to travelers not just from Pakistan but all countries where polio is endemic or where victims are reported.

The ban, many believe, will make cross-border travel difficult for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who have families in India.

Pakistan's polio immunization efforts have suffered critical setbacks in recent years. Islamist militants linked to the al-Qaida terror network in insurgency-hit northwestern tribal areas have banned national vaccination drive on suspicions the American CIA is using it to gather information.

In addition, attacks elsewhere in the country on polio teams have left some members of vaccination teams and security personal escorting them dead. The suspicions about the anti-polio drive and the deadly attacks are cited as primary reasons for a surge in polio cases in Pakistan.

World Health Organization recorded 72 cases so far this year in Pakistan compared to 58 in 2012. The WHO confirmed last month that an outbreak of polio in war-hit Syria that affected more than dozen children was linked to a strain of the virus from Pakistan.