October 6, 2021
By Shahid Afzal Khan
Twenty-one year old Shiraz Khan hails from South Waziristan and is a sturdy and smart young man.
Once, he wanted to become a footballer but his dream was shattered when his entire right leg was lost in a landmine explosion while on his way to college. Now, he must depend on others for the daily routine chores, a misery that continues to haunt him forever.
Twenty-seven-year-old Muhammad Zubair has a similar story. Zubair too resides in the same area as Shiraz. Once he had assured his single mother that he would bear all their home expenses when he would graduate from college – a dream that never became reality as he was severely injured in a landmine blast. Now, he has become a liability himself.
“I had dreamed of helping my mother with home expenses, but now I feel I am just a burden on my family, and that hurts me every single moment,” Zubair said, his eyes moistening.
The list goes on with children and adults alike, becoming victims to this deadly weapon. The youth and the elderly are particularly vulnerable and many often come in with fatal injuries since mine detonators can resemble glittery objects which children mistake for toys.
The entire belt of the merged trial districts, formerly known as FATA has been trying to move on from conflicts from the past, but the leftover land mines still buried in unknown areas, continue to take lives, and limbs both.
On May 28, 2021, four children were wounded in a landmine explosion in the central part of the Kurram tribal district. The children were roaming in the field in the Tandi area when the landmine exploded. The wounded children were later identified as Wajid, Kamran, Haroon, and Islamuddin.
Landmines have remained a nightmare for the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially former FATA, (Federally Administered Tribal Area) since the Soviet invasion days. Residents of the area adjacent to the Pak-Afghan border often bear the brunt of these ‘silent killers’ which take a toll on the lives of the people there.
Unexploded landmines which are sprawled all over the area, reminding the horrors of the Afghan war and the war on terror, still pose a grave danger to human life. The trials and tribulations of the residents of the areas who were once the victims of the war on terror and had been internally displaced for years, now have to deal with the curse of another war front in the form of deadly landmines.
The threat of falling prey to the landmines is not confined to the residents alone. Several soldiers of the Pakistan Army have also died or been injured by these mines.
As reported by the media, two soldiers lost lives and three of those injured in a landmine blast in South Waziristan’s Barmal area last month. According to media reports, landmines have placed mostly by terrorist outfits including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In a recent social media infographic post, the banned organization claimed of more than 17 landmines’ attacks on Pakistani soldiers.
Lately, a group of lawyers has moved a petition in Peshawar High Court against the mounting landmine explosions in the merged tribal districts. According to the petition filed, there were around 178 landmine explosions that took place in South Waziristan in the last couple of years, resulting in the loss of 800 precious lives, whereas hundreds were paralyzed or visually impaired.
The implications of a landmine blast for the locals are severe, especially for those who have been inflicted with it for a long time. Having visually impaired family members or friends around is a continuous nightmare to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of former FATA – destiny they had never expected for during their internal displacement period and a sight they had never sought after their return to their homeland from where they had once fled in panic.
Adding insult to injury, poor people who fell victim to landmine blasts are not compensated in any form in most cases, leaving the residents of tribal districts in psychological distress.
To protest against landmines and not being compensated, tribal people held a procession in South Waziristan in which Manzoor Pashteen, leader of the Pashtoon Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) also took part. Urging the authorities to demine the area on a priority basis, Pashteen demanded compensation for those who are the victims of landmines. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has also expressed its deep concern over recent incidents of landmine explosions in various parts of Pakistan.
“Despite most of the areas being cleared from the militants, it is not possible to roam freely as the place remains infested with landmines,” agreed Raza Shah, who heads the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO), an active member of the global Control Arms Coalition and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).
Responding to the surge in landmine blasts, the Pakistan army has started a demining operation in the area to make it a mine-free zone. It is important to mention that Pakistan is among the 33 countries that have not ratified the Ottawa Convention that prohibits stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.
Nonetheless, there are apprehensions that the demining operation launched by the Pakistan army might halt due to a volatile situation along the Pak-Afghan border.
Inam ur Rehman, an expert on landmines, says that the expected influx of Afghan refugees coupled with the sudden surge in terrorist attacks Pakistan is witnessing might make the situation worse for the people, and urged the authorities to take immediate steps for the demining of the areas concerned.