1: (Sadly) “Who banned us?”
2: (With a sigh) “W.H.O. did.”
1: “That’s what I asked. Who banned us?”
2: “W.H.O banned us.”
1: (Mildly confused) “I am asking you a question. Who banned us from traveling the world?”
2: “Yes, they did. Because of the poliovirus”
1: “Yes, I get that. But who specifically banned us?”
1: (Hesitantly) “Yeah…”
2: “W. H.O.”
2: “W.H.O banned us! The World Health Organization! Double You, Aitch, Oh!”
[Pause followed by deep breath.]
1: “Who knew?”
2: “Imma kill you.”
Last week you and I spoke about how restrictive the Pakistani passport can be for travel purposes. (Granted, it was a one-way conversation but I enjoyed it anyway.) Given the rapid pace of general decline around us, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we are worse off this week than the last. Seven days, as the Biblical God demonstrated, can do a lot of damage. Last Monday, The World Health Organization (WHO) issued the inevitable travel ban on Pakistanis because we have such an epidemic of the poliovirus in our country.
This too shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s been a long time coming and sadly, we deserve it. Polio workers have been under siege for years in our country. They are either killed or threatened for their efforts by militant extremists; parents themselves refuse the vaccine for their infants based on a mixture of superstition, fear and/or lies spread by evil people. Even those who might want to give their children the cure are likely scared to even admit a polio worker into their houses for fear of reprisals. Last year, for example, 47,009 children were skipped in our national vaccination campaign because their parents refused to let polio workers into the house. That’s 47,009 kids who can contract polio at any minute. Apparently, to be polio-free is a “Western construct” (please show me an “Eastern construct” that’s still standing) not encouraged here. This might be because of the fact that Osama bin Laden was traced under the cover of a fake polio vaccination scheme, which has made people suspicious of the program and inspired the Taliban to include it in their big crusade.
The travel ban may be new but it’s been in the works for a while. Recall a few months ago that India began asking people traveling from Pakistani to carry the vaccination card with them, which memorably led to the Indian actress Shabana Azmi getting drops on the plane on the runway as she took off from her Karachi trip last February. (Saudi Arabia, that king among friends, has required proof of vaccination since 2000, so don’t say it’s a RAW conspiracy.)
[quote]The ban will invariably target those who can’t afford to fake a polio document[/quote]
What’s changed? This isn’t a “ban” in the Pakistani sense of the word (kites, liquor, YouTube, all available under the counter). The W.H.O. doesn’t really have the authority to ban us from traveling outright (in that respect it’s like most world regulatory agencies, polite but powerless). What the ban effectively does is to allow other countries to require we show proof we’ve been vaccinated. This will invariably target those who can’t afford to fake a polio document. It also puts the responsibility of vaccination on the government, and we all know how that will turn out.
To give you an idea of how bad things are, ours is one of only three polio-endemic countries on this planet. The other two, Nigeria and Afghanistan, are by all accounts doing better than us (I’d hoped never to say that). Strains of the poliovirus that are thought to have originated in Pakistan have been found in Syria, Palestine, Israel, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
There is still a chance for us to recover from this debacle. People will be checking on our progress periodically and should we improve, the restrictions may be lifted. I shouldn’t have to explain how bad a long-term ban will be for our economy, foreign policy, students, companies, trade, really just everything. But on an infinitesimally brighter note, please remember that most of Pakistan does not have polio. The virus has grown exponentially in FATA, Waziristan and parts of Karachi. You don’t need a Ph.D to do the math on that deadly equation.
Except Imran Khan, who apparently hasn’t been near a book since the 1980s. This man, the platonic ideal of “simple-minded”, is currently in charge of running the government in the very same areas where the polio epidemic is hitting people hardest. Rather than admit his resounding failures, he has proved his party to be little more than a mouthpiece by demanding a large-scale protest against rigging in last year’s national elections. An absurd gesture, since everyone is asking: why now? Why, a year later, would you suddenly make this an issue, were it not to either distract the nation or cause trouble on someone’s behalf? And what do you want, considering how, if elections were held today, you’d fare much worse than you did last May?
Most people wouldn’t die from shock if it turned out that there was rigging in the elections, but despite that almost no one is taking Khan’s alarmist ranting seriously (a bad sign, even for the court jester of politics). By now, hearing Imran Khan speak his mind in public has become like seeing a fish hold forth on a biking tournament. It may start out quaint and charming but finally shows a glaring mismatch between the exercise and its proponent.
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