Islamabad: A cleric in Pakistan's Punjab province has warned that a jihad would be launched against polio vaccination teams at a time when the World Health Organisation has expressed concern at the emergence of new cases of the disease across the country.
Maulvi Ibrahim Chisti of Muzaffargarh district declared the anti-polio campaign as "un-Islamic" and announced at the local mosque that jihad(holy war) should be carried out against the polio vaccination team.
Chisti made the remarks after finding out that a vaccination team had entered Khan Pur Bagga Sher area of Muzaffargarh and asked families to cooperate with the campaign.
The cleric went to the largest mosque in the area and declared that polio drops were "poison" and against Islam, The Express Tribune reported.
He warned that if the vaccination team forced anyone to participate in the campaign, then jihad would be "the only option".
As a result, the polio team returned to Muzaffargarh city without carrying out any immunisation and reported the matter to senior officials.
A police inquiry was ordered and a raid was conducted in the cleric's area.
However, Chisti escaped by the time the police arrived.
Residents said the cleric had tried to convince them that the polio campaign was a "Western conspiracy" to render the population impotent.
After the police raid, the vaccination team returned to the area to implement the immunisation campaign.
The WHO recently expressed concern over a spike in polio cases across Pakistan, particularly the country's restive northwestern tribal region, where around 150,000 children have reportedly not been immunised.
According to cases recorded by the National Institute of Health, the total number of polio cases reported in 2012 is at least 21.
Eight cases were detected in the Khyber tribal region.
Polio cases have also been reported in areas like Rajanpur district of Punjab and Larkana district of Sindh that were free of virus since 2004-05.