DURING the height of the Cold War, a Khmer Rouge general responsible for the death of two million Cambodians reportedly said: “A landmine is a perfect soldier. Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.”
Decades later, millions of anti-personnel landmines scattered during the various wars and conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries continue to haunt soldiers and civilians alike.
A particularly sinister weapon created to maim rather than kill, anti-personnel landmines are also used to hurt populations economically by depriving them of land or rendering it uncultivable.
Relatively cheap to produce, the human cost of landmines is insurmountable, even decades after a conflict has ended.
Additionally, IEDs pose an even greater threat in countries plagued by terrorism, including Pakistan.
A setailed report in this paper on Monday illustrated how such unexploded ordnances take a toll on the people of the tribal districts.
And it is children — caught in the crosshairs of battles they do not understand and have no part in creating — that pay the heaviest price, as they frequently mistake weapons for toys.
Since the passing over two decades ago of the Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, the latest Landmine Monitor Report notes there has been a drop in the global use and production of anti-personnel landmines.
Significantly, a handful of former war-torn countries have been declared landmine-free since endorsing the treaty.
However, a high number of casualties continue to be reported from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Mozambique, Somalia, Bosnia and Croatia.
Pakistan is one of only 33 countries that are not signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty.
Other notable exceptions include the US, Russia, China, Israel and Egypt.
The official reason given is that India, too, has not done so.
As a consequence, the sprinkling of landmines along the Line of Control was once routine.
While Pakistan has relatively fewer casualties from landmines as compared to other countries, reports of mostly children and women injured and killed in Balochistan, KP and parts of Punjab close to the border keep resurfacing in newspapers.
Along with increasing awareness campaigns and building medical facilities, effective channels of communication during the clearance exercises can go a long way in building confidence with long-marginalised communities.
Instead of alienating them further, they must be brought into the fold. But this requires listening instead of reacting.
Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2020