Landmines: Faceless Killers

Sub Title : The scourge of landmines continues to haunt mankind

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2023

Author : Neeraj Mahajan

Page No. : 25

Category : Military Technology

: March 25, 2023

The scourge of landmines continues to haunt mankind across many countries in the world. Even the UN is striving for a world free of landmines and explosive remnants of war, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment. It is indeed a herculean task and requires earnest efforts by all concerned

World War 1 lasted from July 28, 1914  to November 11, 1918 – a total of 4 years, 3 months, and 14 days and World War 2 lasted from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945, for a total of 6 years and 1 day. Even the greatest of wars or hostilities have a time frame… the fighting stops and peace agreements are signed but landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continue to kill people irrespective of their age, gender, nationality or occupation much after hostilities have ceased .

Even decades after a war is over, many mines remain hidden under the ground. Even during peace time some nations lay mine fields to deter the enemy. These often end up  killing or injuring innocent civilians including children.  Every hour, all over the world people die or lose limbs accidentally due to stepping on a ‘hidden’ landmine. Make no mistake landmines are killers…. landmines don’t spare anyone and make no distinction between combat soldiers or casual labour… man, woman, or child.

According to the Landmine Monitor 2022 report, landmines continue to kill or injure civilians and destroy livelihoods in more than 60 countries and territories.  At least 5,544 people were injured or killed in 2021 – mostly civilians – nearly half of whom were children. Even in peacetime antipersonnel landmines and other such explosive remnants of war (ERW) continue to be the cause behind many deaths all over the world. Syria recorded the highest number of 1,227 casualties, followed by Afghanistan with 1,074.

This may seem harsh – but  is the truth that soldiers posted near the international border are made to learn as they face two enemies – in front as well as subterranean. They very well know that the enemy in front will aim and shoot at them – so they hide behind obstacles and crawl to safely reach their bunkers, but they can’t do much about the landmine dug inside the ground by an enemy years ago. The grim reality is that all armies enthusiastically lay minefields to prevent enemy progress during the war but never return back after the war to ensure that all the mines they planted are removed safely. The cost is eventually paid by an unknown person like Ram Chandra, a resident of Daulatpura village on the border with Pakistan in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar district.

Ram Chandra was visiting his field one fine morning when his nephew playing nearby pulled out a small glittering object which he mistook for a toy. But before they could do anything the object exploded. Ram Chandra became blind and both his arms below the elbow had to be amputated because of shrapnel injuries, while his nephew was a shade better having lost just – one eye.

Ram Chandra and his nephew are not the only ones – several people in Daulatpura have lost their lives or have been maimed because the minefields laid during Operation Parakram continue to exist. Daulatpura is just one of the hundreds of villages along the international border in Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir where the army had laid lakhs of landmines over vast tracts of land during Operation Parakram. It was one of the most massive mine-laying operations in Indian history when the Army was asked to prepare for war with Pakistan after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.

The war never happened but even today there are people who are paying the price for the war that was called off. Nearly 58 people were killed and 310 injured much later due to landmines in the three states bordering Pakistan – a survey carried out by the Indian Institute for Peace Disarmament and Environment Protection (IIPDEP) reveals.  The IIPDEP – a NGO – is trying to spread awareness and sensitize policymakers, bureaucrats and media on issues like Banning of  Landmines and Cluster Munitions.

Landmines inside the ground shift their position during the rains making it virtually impossible for even battle-hardened soldiers with hand-held mine detectors – to tell where the mine spotted by them the day before – shifted during the night. This correspondent was a witness to this phenomenon when he stayed at the Line of Control for nearly one week in an Indian army forward post. Every morning a few soldiers from the unit were assigned to go over the area with a mine detector. Only after the mine detection party gave the all-clear signal – everyone else was allowed to step out of their bunkers.

In the last few years, more than 55 million antipersonnel mines have been rendered useless but still more than 130,000 antipersonnel mines remain to be destroyed all over the world.

Antipersonnel mines are designed to explode due to the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. In addition to these, there are improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and antivehicle mines that are designed to explode due to contact, presence or proximity of a nearby vehicle. Landmines show no mercy and go off the moment a soldier or civilian touches, triggers or unintentionally sets them off.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – as the name suggests are crude or makeshift contraptions made from explosives or toxic chemicals. The IED too can be victim-activated or command-detonated. They can be made of plastic, metal, or other material and contain explosives, pieces of metal as well as  other objects to cause additional injury. They are activated by direct pressure from above, by the pressure put on a wire or filament attached to a pull switch, or even by a person within a predetermined distance.

Stepping on an antipersonnel mine can cause severe injuries and secondary infections that may eventually lead to amputation. Fragmentation of a mine projects hundreds of metal fragments that cause multiple deep wounds to the victim all over the body. Bouncing fragmentation mines are more powerful versions: they spring up about one meter and then explode, shooting metal fragments to a large radius at waist height.

According to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) refer to ordnance left behind after a conflict. Explosive weapons that fail to detonate are classified as unexploded ordnance (UXO) and also left behind during and after conflicts. This apart there are what is called abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO) or explosive weapons that have not been used during the armed conflict but have been left behind because they are no longer effectively controlled. All these are as dangerous as landmines.

The Explosive Remnants of War can include artillery shells, grenades, mortars, rockets, air-dropped bombs, and cluster munition remnants. ERW consist of UXO and AXO. Both landmines and ERW can be found on roads, footpaths, agricultural fields, forests, deserts, as well as houses, schools or other public places near the borders, and hence, pose a serious and continuing threat to the local residents and visitors.

On 8 December 2005, the UN General Assembly declared 4 April each year to be observed as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.