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It’s time for India to join the Mine Ban Treaty

“Anti-personnel mines are an antiquated weapon that can no longer have a place in India’s arsenal.” File photo of anti-personnel mines that were recovered in an operation in Kolkata.

“Anti-personnel mines are an antiquated weapon that can no longer have a place in India’s arsenal.” File photo of anti-personnel mines that were recovered in an operation in Kolkata.   | Photo Credit: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

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Left over from a previous phase of conflict, India’s landmines are no longer useful,instead producing severe hardship on border communities

India, since its independence, has been a passionate advocate of disarmament measures in the United Nations system. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, “India has a long-standing commitment to the goal of general and complete disarmament based on the principles of universality, non-discrimination and verification...” In 1996, India voted in favour of a UN General Assembly Resolution urging states to vigorously pursue an international agreement banning anti-personnel mines. However, in 1997 when the Mine Ban Treaty came into existence, India chose to remain outside it. This key contemporary disarmament measure has saved thousands of lives. Eighty per cent of governments in the world have joined this treaty, and the UN Secretary General has acknowledged it as a ‘near universal’ convention. But India is still waiting and watching from outside. Is it time for a rethink?

In 1999, India joined an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons, a limited disarmament measure on anti-personnel landmines. The protocol prohibits the use of undetectable landmines, requires permanent marking and fencing of any mined area, but does not comprehensively ban the weapon. In the past, India was a major manufacturer of undetectable landmines and used them along the international border with Pakistan as well as along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.

Landmines are a globally condemned and banned weapon due to their inherently indiscriminate nature. Once a landmine is laid, it does not discriminate between a combatant and a civilian. Landmines usually remain active long after fighting is over and become a lasting deadly legacy of armed conflicts. It makes little difference to communities whether one landmine or a thousand exist in their fields or roads, as the uncertainty regarding the presence of a landmine is debilitating; it terrorises communities, creating a culture of fear, and halts or limits mobility and access to productive resources. India has, in the past, stated that it needs landmines to deter incursion by armed militants, especially into Kashmir. Has this proved effective? Don’t the long-term negative consequences of the use of this weapon far outweigh its military utility? India has suffered greatly from anti-personnel mine use. Hardly a month goes by without reports of deaths or injuries to soldiers or civilians due to anti-personnel mines laid — many of them India made — along the LoC in Kashmir.

Suicidal strategy

The largest known use of anti-personnel mines by any government in recent times was India’s (and Pakistan’s) deployment of hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel mines along the international border during Operation Parakram in the wake of the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Land forces were mobilised on a large scale and mine-laying covered a huge parcel of agricultural land along the border, thereby disrupting the lives of lakhs of Indian citizens. According to an April 2005 report of the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Defence, the Indian Army suffered 1,776 casualties while laying and removing its minefields on the border between December 2001 and April 2005. The total number of civilian casualties remains unknown. However, an Indian NGO survey in 2004 counted at least 1,295 civilian casualties from Operation Parakaram-laid mines. Despite many rounds of manual and mechanical mine clearance, by 2004 the Army declared that at least 3,00,000 mines planted along 400 kilometres of the international border in Punjab and Rajasthan were untraceable, and proposed that the area be permanently cordoned off.



Hardly a month goes by without reports of deaths or injuries to soldiers or civilians due to anti-personnel mines laid — many of them India-made — along the LoC in Kashmir

The full extent of areas mined during Operation Parakaram is unknown. However, reports from that time indicate 700 sq. km along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, and large areas of Punjab and Rajasthan were mined. In January 2002, the Deputy Commissioner of Ferozepur District of Punjab stated that 27 sq. km of land, affecting 350 villages along the 210-km-long international border in the district, had been taken over at that time by the Indian Army for laying minefields.

The attack on the Indian Parliament required a response. However, reliance on anti-personnel mines led to deaths and injuries of hundreds of more Indian nationals and land displacement of thousands with attendant hardship for those villages. This damage was not inflicted by a terrorist group or by an enemy; it was the outcome of the Army’s reliance on mine warfare.

Anti-personnel mines are an antiquated weapon that can no longer have a place in India’s arsenal. The mines laid, and subsequently replenished, over the past decades did not impact the insurgency in Kashmir in any significant way. But the misery they have produced in the communities along the international border and the LoC is real today. With the subsequent construction of the fence along the LoC, India’s anti-personnel mines have become all the more dispensable. Left over from a previous phase of the conflict, they no longer serve any purpose.

It is time for India to rethink its policy and join the other nations around the globe that have concluded that this weapon deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

(Satnam Jit Singh is a former Indian Ambassador and a landmine survivor of the 1965 Indo-Pak War. Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan is a Senior Researcher, International Campaign to Ban Landmines.)

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Printable version | May 21, 2018 11:35:40 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/its-time-for-india-to-join-the-mine-ban-treaty/article7008157.ece