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Removing landmines

In associating landmines and all their attendant dangers with war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Angola, one tends to forget that the deadly contraptions may well be embedded in one’s own backyard, as they are in Fata and at several points along the Indo-Pakistan border. An NGO working in Fata has said that in the tribal areas alone there could be up to 5,000 landmine victims, although the confirmed figure so far has been 756 for Bajaur Agency and 705 for Kurram Agency. Most of the mines in these areas date back to the 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which has one of the highest numbers of landmine victims in the world. Ironically, while Pakistan has been involved in demining operations abroad, it has been unable to tackle the problem at home. Not only is demining an expensive procedure, the mines in the inaccessible region of Fata are scattered, making their detection difficult.

Pakistan may be reluctant to sign the Mine Ban Treaty — because of perceived threats to its security from India — but this is no excuse for not doing its duty to its own citizens and protecting them from serious injury and possible death in mine-infested areas. Most landmine victims are poor and there are few treatment and rehabilitation facilities available to them. While prosthetic limbs are procurable, the cost of these is well beyond the reach of the victims, most of whom cease to be contributing members of their households and society after a mine accident. Although the rehabilitation process has acquired urgency as the number of mine victims continues to mount, the emphasis must be on ending the scourge, once and for all. The lives and limbs of those at risk can only be saved if the government refrains from laying new mines and undertakes regular operations to ensure that the existing ones do not remain