By Aarti Tikoo Singh
New Delhi/Islamabad, Jan 27 (IANS) The Pakistan Army has quietly stopped clearing landmines from Pashtun tribal areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province where a massive rights movement erupted eight years ago against their installation by the military, following several civilian casualties in the explosions.
In 2017, 291 people were killed in landmine blasts in Pakistan, making it one of the top countries with highest casualties. Pakistan, the second largest stockpiler of antipersonnel landmines in the world after Russia, has over 6 million landmines.
Top sources in Peshawar told IANS that the latest crackdown against the rights movement for Pashtun people, which was launched on Monday with the arrest of its leader Manzoor Pashteen and his supporters, is part of the Pakistan Army’s pushback against the tribals who have been demanding removal of all the landmines from their area.
“Two months ago, the Army quietly stopped removing the landmines even as they are duty-bound to clear the area under international laws once the war is over,” a source in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said.
Alamzeb Mehsud, a rights activist who has been working on missing persons and landmine issues of South Waziristan, in his study, found that since 2015, 113 people have been injured by landmine blasts with most of them young boys and girls. A total of 23 people died out of which 21 were children.
The Army had planted the IEDs in Federally Administered Tribal Areas to fight Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2009 when they launched their ground-to-air operation ‘Rah-e-Nijat’ against them.
“We extended our support to the Army for the operation with a hope that we will live peacefully once the TTP was defeated. Our houses, shops, businesses and markets got destroyed; 15 lakh people including my family moved to Karachi. But five years later when we returned, landmine explosions started killing our people. That is when Manzoor Pashteen and many of the university students decided to campaign against landmines,” Mehsud, a graduate of Gomal university in Dera Ismail Khan told IANS on phone a few weeks ago.
Pashteen, Mehsud and many others of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement have been jailed and tortured for raising their voice against the violence caused by the landmines. “I was kept in isolation for eight months in jail, I was tortured and I am on a bail that was granted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Mehsud said.
The Pakistan Army has been claiming that they have cleared the area but on January 1, this year, Bobar area of south Waziristan, 15-year-old Muhamad Ullah lost his left foot and right arm in a landmine blast. A source in Peshawar said that the Army takes victims and treats them in the military hospital to avoid media coverage.
An expert on Pakistan, Francesca Marino told IANS that Pakistan Army is averse to removing landmines because they serve a certain purpose. “One, they have no interest to remove the landmines. Second, the Pakistan Army keeps the tribal population under control using landmines as a weapon of fear and threat. Third, Pakistan Army many a times kill innocent Pashtun people while projecting them as Taliban.”
Marino says that the real Taliban, backed by Pakistan, have been brought back and they are now thriving in the region. A Pashtun activist across the border, who did not want to be named, said the Taliban are there to destablise Afghanistan.
The PTI government, Mehsud added, hasn’t done anything for the rehabilitation of the landmine victims so far. “If they provide compensation, it would mean acknowledgment that the area is not clear of landmines yet,” Mehsud said. The activist said that the government is not allowing them to approach any international human rights agencies either.
Pakistan is one of the many countries which has refused to sign the mine ban treaty.
(Aarti Tikoo Singh can be contacted at email@example.com)