July 12th, 2021
By Farooq Mehsud
For 14 year old Hamida Bibi, life has changed drastically since one fateful day in 2014 when a landmine snatched her leg. As a child who was carefree and loved walking around in the meadows, she now finds her mobility a huge challenge.
Hamida Bibi hails from Kot Kai, South Waziristan, once a no-go area because of militants after which an operation was launched. But while the operation is over, and slowly residents have come back to their homes, peppered all around the fields, are landmines which have still not been removed.
Hamida had been busy grazing her goats in a pasture when she stepped on something. “Whatever had to happen, happened within seconds. All I remember seeing was clouds of black smoke rising in the sky. The next thing I knew I was lying in a hospital without a leg,” she says. The shock of the incident still causes her pain even seven years later.
“I had taken our goats to the mountain in front of the house for grazing,” she remembers. “I was alone. I could not see the bomb buried in the ground when my foot hit it. There was a loud explosion and I saw the smoke. It was only afterwards that I realized I was badly injured.”
One of Hamida’s goats was also killed in the attack. “I was then taken to a hospital in Dera Ismail Khan and then later moved to Peshawar for better treatment. We are poor people with my father being the sole bread winner. I used to help my father by taking care of the goats so he could do other work,” she says.
When the War on Terror formally entered South Waziristan in 2009, it forced 70,000 families to leave their homes and become internally displaced people (IDPs). After the military operation named Rah-e-Nijat, finally ended in 2010, the process of repatriation of victims began almost instantly. By 2018 most of the displaced families had returned to their homes only to find scores of landmines buried in the soils which used to be safe. This marked the beginning of the land crisis in what is now the former FATA region.
Hamida Bibi is disgruntled by the government’s extremely slow-paced response to the crisis and calls out their inefficiency regarding the rehabilitation of mine-blast victims.
“My father had to sell his cattle for my treatment,” she says. “I used to go to school but since I had lost one leg, I could not manage to continue my education. The government should compensate us just like they compensate the other victims of terrorism,” she says.
Much like Hamida Bibi 18-year-old Taj Mohammad, a resident of Kotkai, also lost a leg in a landmine blast while grazing his goats in a nearby pasture.
“On March 7, 2016, I went to the mountains to graze goats,” he remembers. “The rainwater flowing downhill brought with it landmines. Before I knew it, my foot landed on one. About half an hour later I realized that I had lost my leg. Sadly, I am not the only one. Scores of people from my locality have met with a similar fate.”
Since the beginning of the crisis countless men, women, and children have fallen prey to landmine explosions.
A huge number of people, including children, have been killed in landmine blasts in South Waziristan. On June 1 of this year, three children were killed in a blast in the Tangi Badinzai area of Ladha.
Tribal elders from across the lines have also been demanding for an immediate resolution to the landmine crisis.
Like other citizens, eminent social and political figures of the area, like Alamzaib, are also deeply dissatisfied with the government’s response to the landmines issue.
“In 2018 the PTM held a very long protest demonstration to pressure the government to clear our area of these mines but till now no effective action has been taken in this regard,” he says. “The government tells us that these landmines have been set up by terrorists. I say to them that we do not care about who put these landmines in the ground all we know is that it is the state’s responsibility to remove them to ensure the safety of its citizens,” he says in exasperation.
Meanwhile Deputy Commissioner South Waziristan Khalid Iqbal says that the government has cleared explosives from many areas and work is still underway in several other places, but the government requires the cooperation of locals to tackle this huge problem.
But landmine victims in South Waziristan are frustrated by the lack of government assistance.
Taj Mohammad, who is crippled in one leg, has learned to sew but could not find any work. Hamida Bibi laments the expenses her father had to face alone for her treatment with no government aid.
“Landmines are still present in the area and children like me can fall prey to them,” she says. “These explosives should be cleared so that it is safe for people especially children who wander everywhere, and the government should have a stipend for people with disabilities like us.” asserts Hamida.
Alamzaib points out that the government needs a clear and focused policy to assist victims of this ‘manmade disaster” but no such attempts have been made so far.
The United Nations’ Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has also expressed deep concern over the repeated incidents of landmine explosions in different parts of Pakistan. The statement came as a direct response to the recent tragedy involving three innocent children in the Ladha South Waziristan area on June 1, 2021.