This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
Treading on Eggshells: the curse of the landmine
Let's just imagine.
Imagine you're a little boy, oh, say, ten years old. You're a farmer's son, and in your time off from school you do odd chores and work in the field. You're pretty lucky that way - your parents never had the luxury of school, themselves, but they're putting you through it. Of course you still have to help out, but you don't work morning to night, all day, every day.
Got it? Got the picture in your mind's eye?
So, one morning - it's a holiday - you go out with the family cow and her calf to the field, to let them graze. It's early winter, chilly, the mist heavy on the ground, and no cultivation right now. The ground is fallow. Over to the west the border where, a couple of years ago, the soldiers had dug their trenches is now bare as it ever was, and is still shrouded in darkness. You were too little to remember well that time when your parents were prevented from going to the field to work, because it had been taken by the military for their own purposes. They had kept it a year, "in the national interest". Then they had done things to it, dug around, and then they had gone away.
You hardly remember that time.
The mist lies low on the ground - you can't even clearly see the ground you are walking on. You pull your shawl around you, and shiver. Let the cow and calf eat, then you'll take them back to their shed, tie them to the post, and go for your breakfast. That's what you think of.
And the next moment:
Suddenly you are hit by a terrific blow. It's a blow you could never, ever, have expected, because it comes up at you from below, from the solid ground. One moment you are walking along, shivering, still half asleep, wanting your milky tea; the very next, you are suddenly flat on your back, watching the sky go grey and the world get dizzy as your consciousness fades from blood loss...
You come to, much, much later, in an ill-equipped local hospital. You wake topain. Pain such as you have never known, pain that is all you can think about, pain that the medicines do little to alleviate.
Some day, the pain will go away. The physical pain. Then the other sort of pain will begin...
The pain of how to go through life with one leg amputated at the knee. As part of a poor rural farmer's family, which has no resources to adequately treat your injuries, or buy you a proper false leg. And of course, with no guarantee that it will not happen again, to the other leg as well.
Imagined it? It happens - somewhere in the world - every day.
Welcome to the world of the anti-personnel landmine.
What do you do when a war is over, or when it has been averted at the last moment? You withdraw your forces from the battlefield, do you not? And you sort of remove left over weaponry, so far as possible, so people don't keep getting blown away half a century from, now, do you not?
Well, where landmines are concerned, not.
Unlike the naval mine, which by international law is supposed to deactivate itself after a specific period, no such law exists for anti-personnel land mines. And being cheap, destructive force multipliers, they are extremely popular as weapons in "uneven wars" where one side is either much weaker than the other or wants to adopt a defensive attitude, or even just as a terror weapon. They are more often than not intended to injure, not kill outright, because an injured man is more of a burden on the enemy than a dead man. At the same time, cased in plastic, they are extremely difficult to detect. And once the war is over, they will continue, on and on, to injure noncombatants, and often, to kill. And, of course, the most prominent victims of mines are those who have no alternative but to put themselves at risk - the poor who must claw a living from the land. Who cannot afford treatment either.
India launched a year long military demonstration called "Operation Parakram" in 2001-02 on the Pakistan border. Although this demonstration was a spectacularblunder and had never seriously been intended as preparation for war, it did involve the laying of many thousands of anti-personnel landmines along the Pakistani border in order to try and stop Pakistani armed thrusts into Indian territory. By June 2002, casualty levels from landmine blasts had already approached those suffered (by unreliable official figures) during the Kargil "war" of 1999. I recall one of these blasts occurring when mines were being unloaded from a truck and blew up, killing many soldiers. Those mines had fuzes constructed by toy maker Tobu. I don't know if there is a cause and effect relationship there.
After the army was withdrawn from the borders, demining was begun. Now this is not a simple job. When an army (unlike an insurgent force for example) lays mines, it is supposed to make clear records where each mine is so that the mines can be removed later. But demining, compared to laying mines, is expensive. An antipersonnel landmine is very inexpensive to buy. It costs approximately one dollar to produce one mine. However, clearing an area of antipersonnel landmines is extremely expensive. Costs vary between $1,000 to $3,000 per mine, not to mention the enormous human, social and ecological consequences of removing the antipersonnel landmines. Also, many mines were no longer where they had been laid. Snow (in Kashmir), rainfall, and even animal burrowing had shifted them from the place they had been laid. Therefore, many were never recovered. Also, as the government has now admitted, demining equipment was not purchased for the army because, for some incomprehensible reason, the army did not think earlier that it would need it. So, till today, the odd mine continues to blow the legs off an occasional border villager going about his or her business. These mines are often, in fact, shaped like toys or other harmless objects. Thus making them even more dangerous. Things are of course far worse in such mine hotspots as Afghanistan, where the original enthusiasm post 2001 for demining has given way toindifference. Don't get me wrong - I'm not an anti-landmine fundamentalist, I recognise that they have legitimate military applications - but I think I have the right to join others in insisting that the people who lay these mines must ensure that civilians do not suffer the consequences of their actions, and, those, for years to come. Given the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium against civilians, not to mention napalm and Agent Orange, though, fat chance. So, despite the efforts of Heather Mills McCartney (gold-digger or not) and other anti-landmine campaigners, the kids will keep on losing legs. Like you did, a while ago.