In-depth: Laying Landmines to Rest? Humanitarian Mine Action
PAKISTAN: Landmine and UXOs continue to endanger life in isolated tribal belt
Gulzar Hussain resident of Village Luqman Khel, Parachnar Kurram agency, aged 12 now, is seriously handicapped by his amputation of both his legs and one arm
Parachinar, 1 November 2004 (IRIN) - Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) continue to pose an immediate threat to the local population in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. It also impedes infrastructure development and agriculture production of the area, according to anti-landmine activists.
"We identified 405 landmine victims, in our survey last year, only in the Parachinar area of Kurram agency with a death toll of 157," Faiz Muhammad Fayyaz, head of Community Motivation and Development Organisation (CMDO), the only organisation of its kind working in the mine action sector in Pakistan, told IRIN in Parachinar, capital of Kurram tribal agency.
The long Afghan war has left a mass of unmapped landmines scattered in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Out of a total of seven tribal agencies under FATA, six have direct border links with Afghanistan.
Mines were airdropped and laid close to Pakistani towns along the Afghan border by the Soviets to discourage the local population from participating in the war.
"More than 55 training camps and supply depots were set up across the tribal belt to support Afghans against the Soviets with some more in the districts of Chaman, Qilla Abdullah and Qillah Saifullah of Balochistan province," Fayyaz said.
Landmines continue to be used as indiscriminate offensive weapons in the scores of tribal conflicts and incidents of sectarian violence in this unpoliced and remote region of Pakistan.
John Ali, 55, was hit by a landmine seven months ago while working in his fields. He lost one leg below the knee while the second is paralysed. Ali was sole breadwinner for his family with 6 children and is dependent now on his young sons of 14 and 12 for his own movement. His family has not resources to provide him prosthetic support limbs.
Local coordinator of CMDO in Parachinar, Riaz-ul-Haq said that Ali fell victim to Shia-Sunni sectarian violence. "Powerful people still keep stocks of landmines and sometimes grenades in their homes," Haq added.
"There are six or seven fresh landmine/UXO incidents each month in Kurram agency, and an estimated 2,300 mine victims are there at this time," Munir Khan, working with CMDO, told IRIN. The area is contaminated with various types of landmines including PMN, PMN2, PFM1, SB33, TM57, TC66 and UXOs.
Response to landmine problem
Landmine victims in Pakistan's tribal area have been suffering in the absence of any appropriate response to address the problem and help survivors.
"Set aside the provision of physical and socio-economic rehabilitation, the authorities do not even find timely transport and first aid to stabilise the victims of mines and UXOs explosions," Fayyaz said.
CMDO launched a multi sector project to deal with landmines/UXOs problem in the Kurram Agency last year. The agency, having a population of around 441,000 according to 1998 census, is bordered on the north and west by Afghanistan.
The programme was jointly funded by Response International, UK (RI) and The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, UK. The princess took a particular interest in the victims of landmines in her humanitarian and charity work.
"We started mine awareness and risk avoidance education to reduce the number of causalities and build safe behaviour," Fayyaz said.
Some members of Afghan Mine Action Programme trained the CMDO staff to work as Mine Risk Education (MRE) trainers.
CMDO has worked on mine awareness with around 40,000 locals in Parachinar, under the project. Trainers visit schools, mosques and public places in villages to disseminate the message, particularly in vulnerable communities.
Fayyaz further explained that CMDO prioritised educating children, in order to employ them to carry the message to women, whom trainers often cannot access directly due to their seclusion on account of local traditions. "First aid training is also being provided to volunteers during the MRE sessions," Fayyaz said.
Rehabilitation of mine victims
Beyond the immediate danger to life and limb, medical treatment and physical rehabilitation impose a heavy economic burden. Patients need to travel to Peshawar, provincial capital of North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), at some 4-5 hours drive from Parachinar, for any treatment.
"Every patient takes three weeks with a cost of about six to seven hundred dollars for single below knee imputation," a physiotherapist working in a agency hospital told IRIN.
Although important, mine awareness is a very thin protection between civilians and the lethal blast of hidden mines.
Credit: MAG/Sean Sutton
A mine victim Wajahat Hussain lost his legs in a mine blast in 1995, when he was just 15. His family managed the expenses of his immediate medical treatment and prosthetic limbs with the support of a local NGO.
Hussain needs to replace her prosthesis once every three years. "My family supported for replacement of prosthesis twice over last nine years, though it was difficult. But now it's almost impossible for me to arrange a huge amount of 1200 dollars again. I've four children and yet without any proper job, nor I know any skill so I could earn my living," Hussain told IRIN.
The situation is no more different in other areas of FATA in Bajaur, Mohmand, South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Khyber agency. However, the response to the situation is almost nonexistent for various reasons.
Political agents, as representative of the federal government, are responsible for all the administration and law and order in each agency. Pakistani law and regulations do not apply to tribal areas. FATA has its own set of regulations with no provision for any social welfare department or administration.
"Funding constraints combined with the absence of any social infrastructure to address the problems of local population is apparently the main reason for negligible response to the mine problem," Dr Farhat Rehman, head of the Association for Rehabilitation of Physically Disabled told IRIN from Peshawar.
Rehman told some limited size rehabilitation programmes were operating in tribal areas for rehabilitation of mine victims. However, it needed a "serious attention of authorities as well as civil society groups" to help the vulnerable population and mine explosions survivors, she added.
Pakistan's landmine policy
Pakistan is a non-signatory of the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines (APLs).
"Pakistan's regional security environment and its military requirements," Masood Khan, Islamabad's Foreign office (FO) spokesman, told IRIN, "have constrained it from joining the Ottawa Convention." The country continues to adhere to a policy, including exports, which ensures that the mines in its inventory will never become a cause for civilian casualities anywhere, he said.
Pakistan and India both mined their sides of the international common border during a tense military standoff in 2001-02.
However, Pakistani authorities maintain there are no permanently laid mines - antitank or anti-personnel (APM)l - along the international border between India and Pakistan. And if any, "these minefields are properly fenced and marked required by the Amended Protocol II," told IRIN in a written statement.
Pakistan is among fifteen landmine-producing countries across the globe. The country has shifted to the production of detectable versions of APLs since 1997. In addition, "Conversion of the existing stock of the APLs to detectable ones is in hand and progressing," said the policy statement.
Pakistani authorities stress the need to enhance international cooperation to find viable alternatives to APLs, with no undue restrictions on the transfer of technology.
"This also applies to the expertise for the production of 'smart landmines' [detectable and having an inbuilt mechanism neutralising them within a specified period], in which the developing countries are deficient," the spokesman said.