Landmines Continue To Terrorize Civilians In The Merged Areas And Beyond

Landmines Continue To Terrorize Civilians In The Merged Areas And Beyond
Around a decade ago, life for Gulshan, 27, was normal like other teenagers in her village in South Waziristan. It changed in the blink of an eye however, when she stepped on a land mine in a remote village there.

‎Gulshan was walking down South Waziristan with her cousin when she stepped on a landmine. She was left with one leg completely dismembered. Even though she was rushed to the hospital, the damage was done. It changed her life completely, but she didn't give up. In 2018, she appeared in a powerlifting competition and won the gold medal in the National Games held at the National Sports Festival, in Abbottabad. Gulshan won gold in powerlifting and table tennis, and now she intends to represent Pakistan and the disabled people of Pakistan at an international level. This, according to her, will open avenues for the female disabled population and create a platform where they excel in sports.

Gulshan’s story is not an exception. Victims of landmines number in the hundreds in tribal areas, with countless untold stories.

‎The issue of landmines has been a significant problem in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and Balochistan. In the last 13 years, 800 people have lost their lives in 178 incidents of landmine blasts in South Waziristan alone. In addition, 250 children have been physically impaired, 77 people have lost their sight, and around 4,000 cattle have died. According to Peshawar based non-governmental organization Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO), which is working against anti-personnel landmines, there have been at least 48 casualties in Pakistan during the last three months caused by mines. For 2007, the figure stood at 184 and for 2006, 488. Women, who frequently walk long distances to carry water, or children, are the most likely ‎victims of mine blasts.

‎Pakistan is among the 37 countries in the world that are non-signatories to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, generally known as the Landmine Ban Convention. In 2009, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor linked 421 casualties from antipersonnel mines, anti-vehicle mines, victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Pakistan.

Adult men (327) continued to make up the largest casualty group; nearly a third of casualties (103) were security forces personnel. Fifty-seven child casualties were recorded, with 39 killed and 18 injured; 36 were boys and 21 were girls. The vast majority of casualties were in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with 310 fatalities, and in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), followed by 107 in Balochistan. The total number of casualties in Pakistan is unknown and lacks a sanctioned data collection medium.

Landmine Monitor linked at least 2,390 casualties, with 917 persons killed, 1,378 injured, and 95 ‎unknown, from improvised explosives, including ERW, through media monitoring and field visits.

Significant numbers of civilians continue to be killed or injured repeatedly due to the presence of mines and ERW in Pakistan, and the figures are rising rather than dwindling.

‎Ever since its emergence, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has demanded that Waziristan be cleared from landmines and compensation be given to the victims. When PTM discovered that the ‎impact of ERW and landmines extends beyond Waziristan, they expanded their demands to include all tribal districts, linked together by history and fate. In June 2021, a group of attorneys also filed a petition in the Peshawar High Court on account of the payoff of 800 people and 4,000 cattle in South Waziristan due to 178 mine blasts over time.

According to the report, the military has conducted extensive demining operations and cleared the vast majority of snares in the five tribal districts of Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram. But it admits that “further time will be needed” to clear North and South Waziristan, with a “greater concentration” of anti-personnel landmines.

‎The army's claim of clearing the area from land mines is contrary to claims made by people. According to the PTM, data on recent victims of landmines shows that in 2023, at least 10 people were severely injured due to landmine blasts in different parts of ex-FATA. Out of these 10, six were children. According to registered cases, at least 4 children have lost their lives to landmines in 2023, which includes two young girls, 8 and 15 years old, from Nonda Darra, Upper Waziristan and Sher Ali, 11, from the Vishtanai area of Upper Waziristan. ‎

It is very important to continue clearing minefields and to rehabilitate those who have survived accidents. Children are particularly at risk from unexploded artillery and landmines, which are small enough to pick up or kick around while playing, and which they can mistake for toys or objects of value.

PTM organized a march from Dera Ismail Khan to Islamabad, where they held a sit-in with their demands, which included the clearing of Waziristan and other tribal areas of ex-FATA from mines, to draw attention to the suffering endured by Pashtuns. Mine blasts have not abated, despite the commitment made by the armed forces.

Pakistan’s government must commit to clearing areas with history of undetonated mines as a matter of precedence and should consider consenting to the Landmine Ban Convention. The loss incurred due to landmines exceeds the defense purposes of laying them. The high rate of civilian casualties due to mine explosions, and the internal conflicts between non-state militant groups and security officers poses a serious trouble to the strategic stability of Pakistan in South Asia. As a result, Pakistan should address the issues of landmines and unexploded artillery, for the sake of the civilians who live near them and continue to suffer.

The author is a freelance journalist focusing on politics, militancy and marginalised group issues in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. She tweets at: @GKYTweets