Landmines in ex-Fata

Published June 27, 2021

FOR decades, landmines have been used as a potent weapon by many armies and militias, governments and rebels. It is a sinister weapon, indiscriminate in its lethality, designed to kill and maim people, and destroy livelihoods by rendering land uncultivable. Though Afghanistan, Cambodia and Angola are the three most heavily mined countries in the world, landmines laid in areas near the Pak-Afghan border since the Soviet-Afghan war began in 1979 still continue to cause horrific injuries and take lives. Youngsters are particularly susceptible to often fatal injuries since mine detonators can resemble shiny objects which children mistake for toys. It is against this backdrop that a group of lawyers recently moved the Peshawar High Court to take note of frequent landmine explosions in the merged tribal districts, mainly South Waziristan, demanding the government announce compensation for the victims and steps to demine the area.

The petitioners claim that around 800 people have died in South Waziristan on account of 178 mine explosions during the past couple of years. The incidents have also left 250 individuals paralysed and 77 visually impaired. At least 4,000 cattle heads have been killed in the explosions. According to the petitioners, three landmine blasts have occurred in the area since May 28, 2021, alone, taking the lives of 15 children and three security personnel. Alarm was also raised by Unicef earlier this month, with its representative in Pakistan issuing a statement stressing the need for clearing the minefields and raising awareness about the issue. The concern is very valid. According to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, landmines in a number of conflict zones all over the world have collectively caused around 2,000 deaths every month for the past 50 years. Once laid, they remain in place for decades, forgotten until triggered by unsuspecting civilians. The ICRC report estimates that the cumulative deaths and injuries inflicted by landmines globally are greater than those caused by nuclear and chemical weapons combined. Though the situation in Pakistan is relatively better than some of the most heavily mined countries, the frequent reports of landmine blasts in areas close to the Pak-Afghan border demand urgent attention. It is unfortunate that we are one of only 33 countries that have not ratified the Ottawa Convention that prohibits stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. The authorities should take immediate steps for the demining of the areas concerned.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2021

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