One night in June 2012, the TTP sent messengers to all of Yasmeen’s mobilizers’ houses, and insisted their families send one male to a deserted patch of land near Gadap at midnight. There the militants warned the men that the women in their families must stop working for the U.N. because the international agencies were using them as spies, and the aid agencies worked with Western governments to kill Pakistani children in drone attacks. Terrified, the mobilizers tried to explain their predicament to Yasmeen, and together they decided to engage the militants in discussions. After being shown fatwas from hard-line clerics in support of the vaccines, the TTP eventually relented. “They said, ‘OK, you can do this work, but we are telling you we don’t want to see in our area U.N. vehicles, U.N. people, foreigners,’” Yasmeen says, keeping her hand in her purse where she stores a 9mm pistol. “Also, no female from the Wazir, Burki or Mehsud tribes (Pashtun tribes from which the TTP draws most of its members) are allowed to work in the polio program.” Yasmeen says she relayed the threats to UNICEF and WHO officials. “I said, ‘Please don’t send any foreigners there (to UC-4),’ yet they kept coming.”
On July 17 of that year, a team of vaccinators was attacked in UC-4 by militants who snatched their vaccine cooler, smashing the vials of pink liquid into the dirt. “They were saying, ‘We are giving you half an hour to leave our area, otherwise you will see the result,’” Yasmeen says. Later that evening, two polio workers from the WHO were shot. The campaign continued, and two days later a local WHO polio worker was shot and killed.
Since then, 54 polio workers and vaccination security personnel have been killed in Karachi, northwest KP province and FATA. In UC-4 and Karachi’s other high-risk neighborhoods, most of the campaigns since 2012 have been interrupted by violence or lack of security, and the teams’ efforts have been rendered frustratingly ineffective.