A specially designed motorbike is the centre of attention in the busy streets of Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul. The owner of the unique vehicle-cum-mobile shop is Muhammad Taqqi, 60, who lost his legs in a recent landmine blast near the war-torn country’s capital.
Despite this huge loss, Taqqi did not give up. Being head of a family of 12 members, he still shoulders all responsibilities. He remains busy from dawn to dusk to make ends meet.
“I’ve started a small business selling prepaid cards of cellular service providers. I use my ‘special motorbike’ for this purpose,” he said.
During his recovery process from the tragedy, he couldn’t get any compensation from the government despite all pledges.
Taqqi is not an exceptional case though. In Afghanistan, more than ten people lose their lives daily because of deadly landmines left behind after the war with the Soviet Union and subsequent fighting. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined country in the world. The list runs into thousands who are waiting for official compensation.
From April to June, at least 28 people were killed and 53 wounded by landmines and other unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan, according to the government.
A survey conducted by Handicap International, which is campaigning on behalf of people living with disabilities, reveals that one in five households of Afghanistan has a disabled person.
Officials said there were recorded minefields or other hazardous areas in at least 26 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces that are now too dangerous for clearance operations.
As per UN, nearly 600 square km of old minefields and battlefields are yet to be cleared, encompassing more than 3,000 known sites and affecting 1,570 communities.
An official from the Afghan government, Ali Iftikhari, said Kabul, Badakhshan, Herat, the southern region of Helmand and Kandahar are the most affected areas. Pakistan’s tribal areas are no exception, where hundreds of innocent people become victims of these landmines.
Iftikhari cited an official lengthy procedure to compensate war victims. There are many people who are still waiting for their turn, as tens and thousands are registered with the ministry, he confessed.
The scarcity of funds and ongoing conflict made this process even more complicated. Due to the existence of these landmines, there is no respite in the number of victims.
The Chief of Staff at the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan, engineer Muhammad Wakeel, said Afghanistan was heavily mined during the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989. They then started a programme to clear the manipulated areas in 2003, but the first 10 years bore no fruit because of incessant violence.
The programme was then extended from 2013 to 2023 for another 10 years. “Scarcity of funding and insurgency in different parts of the country made the task of the relevant authorities very difficult,” he said.
Civilians, especially children, are most prone to become victims of landmines, which is why many families are hesitant to return to their native towns.
According to a report released by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC) in December 2013, Afghanistan also had the highest number of child deaths from landmines in the world in 2013.
These mines killed 487 Afghan children in 2014 – half of the world's total child mine victims for that year.
Now, the local population is being trained to clear their respective areas, said Wakeel. “We pulled out our resources from Kunduz because of the recent unrest since this is a citizen-based programme.” The clearance of landmines is itself a dangerous activity. During 2014, staff of land mining was also came under militant attacks.
“The total of 34 de-miners killed in 2014 is almost equal to the total number over the previous four years combined,” the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) said.
World body’s role
The role of UN in this is no more than a whistleblower. A large number of equipment used in the cleaning process of landmines are laying in the yard of a UN body in Kabul. Hanging MAPs, photos and paintings can be seen on almost every wall of the world body’s office that explain the dangers of hazardous landmines of Afghanistan. Likewise, there are a number of billboards and hangings on the busy roads of Kabul city that read, ‘We want a mine-free Afghanistan’.
The ground realities are different though. Even the officials at this office of world body are not optimistic about success of the current ten year’s programme, referring to the lack of interest by the international donors. They said the mission of landmine free Afghanistan would remain a distant dream even beyond 2023.
The UN official said that international funding earmarked for Afghanistan’s demining in 2016 is $22 million, a fraction of the $85 million that is required urgently. Sharing a balance sheet, Wakeel said that donations have plunged since 2011, when donors provided $97 million for demining.
At the same time, yearly funding needs have increased, partly due to more minefields being discovered and partly because of the shortfall in past years. Last year $38 million was provided for demining, out of $65.9 million required. Afghan and UN officials fear that this year's available budget may not be enough, as international attention and spending shifts to other conflicts like those in Syria and Iraq.
According to reports, the US, the largest contributor to demining programmes, said it was committed to maintaining support of around $20 million per year, but that work was needed to encourage others to do the same. "The United States has actively worked in diplomatic channels to re-energize other international donor nations to keep this effort moving forward," David McKeeby, a spokesman for the US Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs was quoted as saying by media international media.
Despite all odds, whenever Taqqi finds time, he visits the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled in Afghanistan once in a week to check the status of his case. His file is yet to reach the relevant desk, this is what he is told by officials almost every time.
“No one is doing anything for us and now it seems this is our fate,” said Taqqi, before leaving the site to sell some remaining phone cards. Many others in the long queue are still waiting for a reply from the relevant ministry’s officials, as their wait seems to never end.
Author: Azam Khan