Gunmen kill policeman escorting polio vaccine worker in Pakistan

The attack in Balochistan province took place a day after the start of a new immunisation drive.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Unknown assailants have shot dead a policeman providing security to a polio vaccination health worker in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, the latest attack against efforts to protect children from the disease.

Muhammed Hashim, the police officer, was shot on Tuesday morning while waiting outside a house in Pishin city where a worker had entered to give immunisation drops as part of a vaccination campaign that began on Monday.

Police sources told Al Jazeera the body of the slain officer was transferred to the provincial capital, Quetta.

Yasir Bazai, Pishin’s deputy commissioner, said the authorities’ initial assessment was that the law enforcement official, and not the health worker, was the target of the attack.

“We are not going to suspend the campaign and it will continue as scheduled. However, security is beefed up around the polio teams in the rest of the province,” he told Al Jazeera.

No group has so far claimed responsibility.

Mir Ziaullah Langau, Balochistan’s home minister, condemned the killing and said authorities had instructed officials to ensure the safety of the teams taking part in the drive.

The attack comes amid a rise in polio cases in Pakistan, where the debilitating neurodegenerative disease remains endemic.

There have been 20 cases of polio reported so far this year, all of which in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Polio vaccination teams in Pakistan have often been targeted by armed attackers. Over the past decade, nearly 100 people associated with immunisation campaigns have been killed across the country.

This year alone, there have been four attacks, the last of which happened in August when two policemen guarding a team were shot dead by unknown assailants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Tank district.

Pakistan’s faltering drive to eliminate polio has often faced resistance from religious groups who believe the eradication programme is part of a “Western conspiracy” to sterilise the children.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, yet the most impoverished. The region is also the hub of a decades-old separatist movement, and has seen numerous security-related incidents.

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