By Zafar Iqbal
The incident occurred when the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The victims were playing in a remote village across the line of control (Lo C), the disputed border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Both countries have been accused of the mass production and excessive use of landmines. They also refuse to join the international treaty which binds states never to use, develop, produce, stockpile or transfer antipersonnel landmines.
This year the international community is celebrating “Lend your leg for a mine-free world” campaign to mark its commitment to achieve a mine-free world. Campaigners are asking people to join them on the 4th of April, a U.N. Day for Mine Action and Mine Awareness. On this day people all over the world are asked to roll up their trouser legs to show solidarity with the survivors of landmines and other explosive remnants of military conflicts.
The strife for the abolition of landmines has witnessed a significant progress in the past two decades. The most prominent example of these efforts is the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. The resulting treaty calls each member state to destroy its stocks of anti-personnel mines within four years of membership, and to clear all active antipersonnel landmines within 10 years.
Today, 159 states have joined the Ottawa Treaty, also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. This means that eighty percent of all countries have banned landmines. Most of them no longer produce them, and millions of mines have been cleared from conflict zones like Cambodia, Iraq, Egypt, Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Cyprus, Lebanon, Sudan and Afghanistan.
After the Mine Ban Convention more than 42 million anti-personnel mines have been destroyed by the member states. Over 10,000 landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) have been neutralised in Sri Lanka after the recent peace developments. Around a million people in Libya have been secured from the threat of deadly landmines and UXOs. Across the world, about 100,000 mines are defused annually.
However, the struggle for the existence of a world without mines is not yet over because they still threaten thousands of people in various regions. Around 37 countries have not signed the Treaty. It is unfortunate that some of the major countries still remain outside of the Treaty. These include China, Russia, the USA, as well as Somalia, Myanmar, United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Israel and Iraq. Their lack of commitment to the Treaty jeopardises global humanitarian efforts for the eradication of fatal landmines and other related devices.
Landmine accidents are one of the most appalling problems of the contemporary world. Landmine Action, a UK campaign group, estimates that every year, there are up to 20,000 casualties caused by landmines, which is around 1,500 incidents a month, or 40 a day. Other estimates say that there are 135 million landmines and UXOs spread over 70 countries. In other words, a landmine goes off every 26 minutes somewhere in the world, killing or maiming someone.
The UN predicts that even if no new mines are planted from now on, it would take about 1,100 years to defuse the millions of mines planted across the globe. Demining is a very challenging and dangerous job. One the one hand, it risks the lives of experts involved in the process. For instance, only in India 797 soldiers have become victims in clearance operations since 2002. On the other hand, the financial cost of minefield clearance is mind-blowing. The estimated cost of defusing a mine is $1,300 which is considerably higher than the production cost. The UNICEF estimates the land mine manufacturing cost is $3-$10 per unit. Moreover, the number of amputees in the world has increased to 2, 50,000 people. Rehabilitation of these victims would cost $750 million.
Globally speaking, Africa is the most severely affected region where twenty-two countries face the landmine problem. Fifteen countries in Asia, 11 in Europe and 8 in the Americas are affected by the landmines. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world with 640,000 mines laid in since 1970s. The Institute of War and War Reporting reveals that every month landmines cause 50 casualties in this war-torn country.
Its neighbours Pakistan and India are considered two of the major producers of anti-personnel landmines. The excessive use of landmines and other devices has been reported in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal and other Indian states, including Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan is a large producer of landmines and exports them to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and other countries. It also uses landmines in its Baluchistan province and Taliban dominated northern parts.
At present, both India and Pakistan have also heavily laid mines during the 2001-2 army build up on their international borders and along the Line of Control in disputed Jammu and Kashmir. However, after the normalization, these landlines have not been cleared off and pose danger to civilians, mainly women and children. In particular, along the LoC civilians repeatedly suffer from these treacherous landmines. Hundreds of people have lost their limbs in various areas near the LoC in the past two decades in both parts of Kashmir.
Civilian victims suffer from psychological and physical trauma caused by landmines. “My life has become a hell. I have lost my vital body parts and am not able to walk, eat and see,” says Aziz, a resident of a border village.
Living in utter poverty, he cannot afford to purchase the artificial limbs. There are many more victims of landmines that have the same tale of grief, frustration and ordeal.
These landmines related tragedies in various parts of the world call for concrete actions and coordinated efforts of the governments and civil society to eliminate deadly landmines. Today, there is a dire need to accelerate humanitarian efforts to strengthen the Mine Ban Community. Promoting risk education and using efficient technological solutions for the clearance of landmines and UXOs can save people.
(The writer is founder of Press For Peace (PFP), an independent organisation working for promotion of peace and sustainable development. He can be contacted via: www.pressforpeace.org.uk )