Published on Thursday, January 10, 2002 in the Guardian of London
Standoff in Kashmir Threatens Landmine Ban
by Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill
Campaigners seeking a worldwide ban on anti-personnel landmines claim to have achieved significant successes since the creation of the watershed land mine treaty in 1997.
But the dramatically extended mining of the India-Pakistan border reported today, the recent use of cluster bombs by American forces in Afghanistan, and the exclusion from the treaty's provisions of other forms of mines and ordnance, such as anti-tank mines and sub-munitions, threaten to throw the advances secured by the Ottawa convention (where the treaty was created) into reverse.
So, too, does the continuing refusal of the Bush administration, Russia and China, as well as India and Pakistan, to ratify the treaty, campaigners say.
The campaign against antipersonnel landmines (APLs) was supported by Diana, Princess of Wales, who helped draw worldwide attention to its objectives, and culminated in the awarding of the 1997 Nobel peace prize to the umbrella organization, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
The treaty - the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on their Destruction - commits the signatories to immediately end the use, production and transfer of APLs, and to destroy existing stockpiles within four years.
So far, 137 countries have signed up to the treaty, of which 99 have ratified it. Britain ratified the treaty in 1999 and the Department of International Development lists among its objectives the promotion of a worldwide ban.
Since countries began to implement the treaty, the number of mines being laid has dropped and the scale of clean-up operations have increased.
Mine production falls
Casualties from landmines have fallen from an estimated 26,000 deaths and injuries a year to almost half that.
The ICBL said in its last annual report that the use of APLs had decreased due to the easing of the conflicts in Chechnya, Kosovo, Eritrea and the Congo, and also, in part, because use of the weapons has become increasingly stigmatized.
Worldwide production of APLs has also dropped and the international trade in the weapons has all but halted. It is estimated that more than 27m APLs have been destroyed by more than 50 nations since 1997. This has been accompanied by increased government funding for humanitarian anti-mine and mine clearance action; major donors provided $224m in 2000.
But 90 countries remain affected to varying degrees by landmines or other forms of unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs.
These countries include Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Iraq and Sri Lanka and others where conflicts continue or have ended only relatively recently. The ICBL reported that 15 governments and at least 30 guerrilla groups or terrorist organizations continue the active use of APLs.
Bush abandons treaty
Particular concern is focused on the attitude of the Bush administration, which campaigners say is considering abandoning the previously stated US intention of eventually joining the landmine treaty; it may even may cut back on the programs to develop alternative defensive technologies.
The Pentagon has rebuffed fierce international criticism of its use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan and maintains that landmines are essential to its arsenal -for example, in defending the Korean peninsula.
But a recent investigation by Human Rights Watch revealed that nearly half of the APLs retained by the US for use in Korea are not actively deployed and are currently stored in mainland America.
But while efforts to extend the treaty's provisions to cover other types of mines and draw in new members continue, it is the massive new mining under way on the India-Pakistan border that is the biggest immediate cause for concern.
The mined area, which will stretch over 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) and up to three miles deep, will dwarf even the western front of the first world war and the myriad other conflicts that have seen frontlines scattered with mines over the past 50 years.
The sowing of these mines along a border that runs from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas throws into reverse the substantial worldwide gains made by campaigners when the land mine treaty was signed in Ottawa in 1997.
And the border is at the heart of potentially the most dangerous conflict in the world today, the standoff over Kashmir between the two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, and the one country capable of preventing them going to war, the United States.
The Indian position was set out by one of its ambassadors, Rakesh Sood, just over a year ago. He said that India was "committed to the objective of a non-discriminatory, universal and global ban on antipersonnel mines".
But he added that this had to be done "in a manner that addresses the legitimate defense requirements of states".
A month later, this was mirrored by a statement from Pakistan, one of whose ambassadors said in a letter to the ICBL: "While we do appreciate efforts to rid the world of the menace of landmines, our approach on the issue is based on pragmatism and realism. The reality is dictated by our strategic compulsions, which require augmentation and strengthening of our defense along the long borders of Pakistan."
He added that the mines would create both an "obstacle system" and "a psychological barrier".
The Indian-Pakistan border, especially in Kashmir, has long been heavily fortified and India has used land mines in the three post-independence wars between the countries.
But as a result of the present tension after the attack last month on the Indian parliament by militants who New Delhi alleges were backed by Pakistan, India has now decided it needs to be fortified further.
Even if tension between India and Pakistan was to ease tomorrow, this huge mine-laying operation will have serious consequences.
There is much arable land lost. There is the political impact: a fortified border makes conflict resolution and normalization of relations more fraught. And there is the human cost: the civilians, often children, who stray on to minefields. Over the past fortnight, at least 36 people are estimated to have died in two incidents.
Soldiers are notoriously unreliable in recording and maintaining records of where mines have been laid. Even where records are accurate, mine-clearing is time consuming.
An Indian officer estimated that cleaning up a field of just a few hectares sown with 50-60 mines would take 20 days.
Figures for the number of landmines being laid are difficult to establish. The Indian and Pakistani military, like soldiers elsewhere, regard such information as secret.
But there are estimates of the stockpiles held by these countries. Of 230-245m antipersonnel mines held worldwide, India has between 4m and 5m and Pakistan 6m. The US has 11.2m.
Ironically, India and Pakistan have both been involved in recent years in helping with UN mine-clearing operations in other countries. The Indian army has helped out in the Congo, Angola, Cambodia, Somalia, Mozambique, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
1m victims since 1975
· There are more than 110m landmines buried around the world. Removing them will cost $33bn (£23bn) and will take 1,100 years at present de-mining rates. And in addition, 100m mines are stockpiled
· Mines are being laid 25 times faster than they can be cleared. Each can cost as little as $3 to make and more than $1,000 to clear. For every hour spent sowing mines, more than 100 hours are spent de-mining.
· 70 people are killed or injured every day by mines - more than 25,000 people a year. More than 1m people have been killed or maimed since 1975, including 300,000 children
· Half of all adults who stand on a mine die before they reach hospital. Children are more likely to die. Victims need twice as many blood transfusions as people injured by bullets
· Most minefields are unmarked. Many antipersonnel mines are simply washed out of the ground and deposited elsewhere, often on previously clear land
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002