The Killing Fields

In the ab­sence of a process to fully elim­i­nate land­mines, large-scale in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns are needed to ed­u­cate the peo­ple about how to pro­tect them­selves from th­ese deadly de­vices.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Dr. Raza Khan

Many ar­eas of war-rav­aged Afghanistan are still strewn with deadly land­mines and un­ex­ploded ord­nance, putting the lives of the res­i­dents at risk and in­creas­ing the ca­su­alty fig­ures which are al­ready in the mil­lions due to the con­tin­ued con­flict and strife in the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to the Mine Ac­tion Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­tre of Afghanistan, 100 peo­ple suf­fer ca­su­al­ties each month on av­er­age in ex­plo­sions caused by th­ese de­vices. In 2002, mines and un­ex­ploded de­vices in­flicted ca­su­al­ties on 25 per­sons per day on av­er­age. Over the past 35 years, thou­sands of peo­ple have been killed and maimed in Afghanistan in land­mine ex­plo­sions.

Although there have been sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ments in re­mov­ing and de­fus­ing land­mines and un­ex­ploded ord­nance ( UXO) in the last one decade, the threat is far from be­ing neu­tral­ized.

Most of the land­mines were placed dur­ing the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion by Soviet troops as well as the Afghan mil­i­tant groups fight­ing them. After 2001, the Afghan Tal­iban fight­ing the in­ter­na­tional troops started us­ing road­side bombs, known as Im­pro­vised Ex­plo­sive De­vices (IEDs), ex­ces­sively to tar­get the sol­diers of the United Statesled In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity & As­sis­tance Forces as well as the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces. Since many of th­ese IEDs and bombs failed to ex­plode, or were left un­ex­ploded by the mil­i­tants, they con­tinue to cause ca­su­al­ties, es­pe­cially in the coun­try­side.

The Mine Ac­tion Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­tre of Afghanistan es­ti­mates that over 4000 ar­eas of the coun­try are still lit­tered with mines and UXOs. Keep­ing in view the func­tion­ing of state and civil so­ci­ety in­sti­tu­tions in Afghanistan, the fig­ure seems con­ser­va­tive as there may be many more ar­eas con­tain­ing th­ese deadly de­vices. Land­mines are a threat to the civil­ians and se­cu­rity forces per­son­nel alike and have also been putting a damper on the mo­ti­va­tions of in­ter­na­tional con­struc­tion and re­lief work­ers sta­tioned in Afghanistan. Their pres­ence has sig­nif­i­cantly im­peded the process of con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment in war-torn Afghanistan as in­vestors refuse to work in the ar­eas where land­mines and UXOs are be­lieved to be in abun­dance for fear of los­ing their pre­cious and costly equip­ment.

To date hardly any as­sess­ment of the eco­nomic cost of mines and UXOs has been done. The hu­man and eco­nomic cost of land­mines and UXO makes it a very im­por­tant is­sue which has failed to re­ceive the at­ten­tion of the Afghan gov­ern­ment. The role of the in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity forces in the re­moval of land­mines is quite com­mend­able. In fact, it is be­cause of their ef­forts that hun­dreds of thou­sands of mines and UXOs were de­tected and de­fused. How­ever, the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the in­ter­na­tional forces to neu­tral­ize the threat are limited. Lack of mo­ti­va­tion and per­son­nel has also im­peded their en­deav­ors to fully elim­i­nate land­mines and UXOs from Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the Afghan gov­ern­ment has failed to lead from the front. Its belief that the re­moval of land­mines is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­ter­na­tional forces is ex­tremely er­ro­neous. Ex­pect­ing oth­ers to do what they are sup­posed to do for them­selves, es­pe­cially in the con­text of se­cu­rity, has

be­come a part of the Afghan psy­che. This mind­set has its roots in the Afghan so­cial psy­chol­ogy of do­ing noth­ing and blam­ing oth­ers for their coun­try’s mis­for­tunes. Many Afghans be­lieve that what­ever has hap­pened in their coun­try since the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion is a con­spir­acy of for­eign pow­ers, with the Afghans hav­ing noth­ing to do with it. This belief is largely un­founded. If the Afghans have to deal with the reper­cus­sions of what has hap­pened to their ill-fated coun­try, they have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity of their sit­u­a­tion. The is­sue of hu­man and eco­nomic cost of land­mines and UXOs is no ex­cep­tion.

If the threat from th­ese deadly de­vices has to be ef­fec­tively con­tained and ul­ti­mately elim­i­nated, a mul­ti­pronged strat­egy needs to be adopted. The fore­most strand of this strat­egy should be the use of state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy. Keep­ing in view the qual­ity of tech­nol­ogy avail­able in Afghanistan, it seems dif­fi­cult that Kabul could un­der­take the job on its own. The task re­quires ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies such as ge­o­log­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal map­ping through satel­lite and ro­bot­ics which can only be pro­vided by the U.S. and other de­vel­oped coun­tries. For­tu­nately, the U.S. and Afghanistan have signed the long-de­layed Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment (BSA), which would al­low around 10,000 U.S. forces per­son­nel, in­clud­ing en­gi­neers and tech­nol­o­gists, to re­main in Afghanistan beyond De­cem­ber 31, 2014, the date by which most of the troops would have left the coun­try.

Afghanistan should take max­i­mum ad­van­tage of their pres­ence, es­pe­cially to re­move and elim­i­nate land­mines. In the mean­while, gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions of Afghanistan should de­velop the ca­pac­ity to de­crease the threat from the de­vices. The state should ear­mark re­sources to buy tech­nol­ogy like robots to track and defuse land­mines and other un­used ord­nance. The na­ture of risk to hu­man lives from th­ese de­vices is such that only an ex­ces­sive use of tech­nol­ogy could elim­i­nate the threat.

While tech­nol­ogy could be in­stru­men­tal in deal­ing with the grave prob­lem, the per­son­nel needed to use it and the phys­i­cal work re­quired is go­ing to prove quite daunt­ing. In the ab­sence of a skilled work­force, Afghanistan should send its of­fi­cials abroad for rel­e­vant train­ing.

In or­der to mit­i­gate the threat and re­duce ca­su­al­ties from land­mines and UXOs, large-scale in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns are needed across the coun­try. The cam­paigns should ed­u­cate the peo­ple about how to pro­tect them­selves from th­ese de­vices. The peo­ple should also be told that if they spot a sus­pected de­vice, they should im­me­di­ately in­form the rel­e­vant state au­thor­i­ties in­stead of at­tempt­ing to defuse the de­vice them­selves.

The loss of hu­man lives due to land­mines and UXOs, as well as the eco­nomic losses, could be sig­nif­i­cantly de­creased by adopt­ing pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures. The Afghan au­thor­i­ties are also ex­pected to end the blame game and start tak­ing own­er­ship of the process of deal­ing with the af­ter­ef­fects of the con­flict. The writer holds a Ph.D in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. He spe­cial­izes in po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies, re­gional stud­ies, con­flict and peace stud­ies, ter­ror­ism-coun­tert­er­ror­ism and gov­er­nance.

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