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Slain Pakistani Polio Workers Remembered

Nine polio-immunization workers have been killed by Islamist militants in the past week.
Nine polio-immunization workers have been killed by Islamist militants in the past week.
KHYBER PAKHTUNKWA PROVINCE, Pakistan -- With news that the death toll of persons involved in polio-immunization efforts in Pakistan has risen, family members have been recalling the life and work of the two most recent victims.

Zakia Bibi, a mother of three school-age boys, worked as a female vaccination supervisor for the All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Welfare Association, which is staffed by employees of the provincial Health Department.

Zakia was shot dead along with her driver, Ayaz Gul, on December 19 while working in the Charsadda district of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

Bibi's husband, Jehanzeb Khan, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal of her commitment to eliminating polio in Pakistan.

"She was busy with vaccination campaigns along with her household work...She used to seek out each and every child and put a mark on their finger [to confirm they] got the vaccine. She also used to bring medicines with her and distribute them among poor people in the area."

Family Breadwinner

According to Khan, Bibi played the role of breadwinner for the family because he has suffered debilitating injuries.
Jehanzeb Khan
Jehanzeb Khan

"She helped and supported me," he says. "She was [financially] supporting the education of our children. My leg, see, is fractured and I am not going to my daily-wage job. She prepared tea for me before going to work on Wednesday morning [December 19]. She asked me not to go to work. She provided me a blanket and left the house to attend to her duties."

Unaware of any threats Bibi may have received, Khan is critical of the government for failing to protect her.

"She was on government duty and it was the government's responsibility to take care of her security," he says. "She was not afraid of any [threats]. She said she had the fear of God [in her heart], and used to make sure that each and every child got the vaccine."

A Pious Man

Bibi's driver, Ayaz Gul, was also killed as gunmen opened fire on his vehicle as it passed through Charsadda district.

Gul, a father of seven, was employed as a driver by the provincial Health Department. Gul's uncle, Muhammad Daud, describes his nephew as a pious man.

"He was a prayer leader aside from his work as a driver," he said. "He led prayers at my father's mosque. Sometimes I would lead the prayer and sometimes he would, and he also taught children [at the mosque]."

Daud says Gul, who lived in the nearby village of Kangra, led a quiet life and expressed bewilderment at why he would be targeted.

Written by Frud Bezhan, based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal correspondent Shah Nawaz Khan
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the regional desk editor for Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2012, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.