Need and Vision for a Mine and ERW-free Afghanistan




Afghanistan remains most heavily contaminated by landmines as well as explosive remnants of war, the related casualties of which can be counted in their thousands. The country needs sustained international attention and clear benchmarks on demining. After the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the dangers of mine action slipping off the radar is a possibility. This has to be addressed immediately in order to prevent the country from returning to endless cycles of violence and destruction.


Image Courtesy: MENAFN

Marked by over four decades of armed conflict, Afghanistan remains one of the conflict-ridden countries most heavily contaminated by landmines as well as explosive remnants of war. Mine and Explosive Remnant of War (ERW) related casualties in the country can be counted in their thousands. These are a pointer to the fact that this country, despite significant efforts and resource utilization, will need a huge amount of effort supported by the international community to achieve a mine and ERW-free status. Even worse, the prevailing instability and absence of commitment can continue pushing these deadlines indefinitely.

Since 1979, armed conflicts have converted Afghanistan into a war theatre in perpetuity. The anti-Soviet war, followed by the ravaging insurgency as well as the war on terror led to a situation when all the contending parties left behind ERWs as well as Abandoned Improvised Mines (AIMs). So rampant is the problem that, according to an estimate in 2012, nearly 671,000 Afghans live within 500 meters of landmine contaminated areas. This figure may have improved a wee bit in the last decade, but not much as Afghanistan witnessed cycles of conflict that perpetuated the political economy of the conflict.

Mine and ERW linked casualties have greatly varied corresponding with the progress and pace of demining in Afghanistan. Between 2001 and 2013, the number of casualties fell significantly to a monthly average of 36 but, since then until 2017, this number increased to a monthly average of 180. During 2019, it again decreased to 128 casualties per month, although this was primarily due to the shortage of resources when collecting verifiable data. Out of all these fatalities, only 2 percent of the recent year civilian casualties was due to mines, 43 percent due to ERW and the remaining 55 percent was due to Victim Operated IEDs. Current data from the Afghan State Ministry for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs suggests that landmines have continued to kill or maim more than 120 people every month in the country.

While the Taliban-led insurgency did pose a huge challenge to demining, the effort was also hampered by other factors including lack of prioritization. Though the Afghan government had set up the Department of Mine Clearance (DMC) as a nodal agency, it did not receive adequate attention and resources due to lack of clarity of the mandate and functions of the agency. This was further compounded with problems of ownership and coordination between various departments and agencies dealing with mine action in Afghanistan.

The Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) comprising of 40 organizations is involved in coordination, clearance, mine/ERW risk education, victim assistance and advocacy. MAPA is funded almost entirely by the international community with minimal financial contribution from the Government of Afghanistan. Since 2001, the government did not make much effort to reinvigorate the DMC and make it the lead agency, nor did the government pay adequate attention to include mine action in the National Priority Programmes (NPP) or the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and the Tokyo donor conference, July 2012.

More than 80 percent of the remaining areas contaminated with landmines and ERW obstruct agricultural areas. This is a major obstacle to development for a country where 70 percent of the labor force is involved in agricultural activities. This explains the slow revenue generation, employment opportunities and economic development pace in the country. During my numerous visits to the provinces in Afghanistan since 2007, I got to hear of many such tragic stories of how mines have maimed and killed family members and made agricultural land unusable that have been the locals’ main source of livelihood. As I walked in the countryside, many times I was warned to be careful of stepping onto a mine even in the areas that were marked as safe as those markers could have been shifted by parties in conflict or natural disasters. The incessant conflict kept the warring parties replanting and reusing mines, perpetuating a sense of fear and inaccessibility to livelihood to common Afghans.

During the past 30 years, about 3,323 square kilometers of land have been cleared of mines and ERWs, constituting an average 9 square kilometers per month. Another 606 square kilometers are believed to be still contaminated by landmines. Between August 2022 and March 2023, 26 square kilometers of land will reportedly be cleared in 21 of the country’s 34 provinces.

Conflict and other factors have prolonged the deadlines set for achieving complete demining in the country. Initially set for 2013, Afghanistan submitted in December 2012 a request to extend the deadline by 10 years. A 10-year work plan was also submitted, following the granted extension period, which will theoretically make Afghanistan achieve a mine free status by 2023. However, the Taliban capture of power in August 2021 has further complicated the situation. The Taliban in 2022 has estimated that it may take another seven to eight years to have the country completely free from the menace of mines and ERWs. Clearly by then, at the present rate of fatalities, another 11,500 people would have been either maimed or killed in mine and ERW related accidents.

To become mine and ERW free, Afghanistan needs commitment from the Taliban regime at home together with assistance from the international community. Amid ongoing instability since the Taliban takeover of power since August 2021, both financial support and government commitment appear to be missing. The conservative financial estimations to achieve this is in the tune of US$100 million per year. For such sum to be available, demining needs to be placed within the broad context of both humanitarian aid and assistance, which is one of the priority areas of the international community at present, and the country’s long-term stabilization process.

It calls for an immediate well-coordinated strategy by the international community to work towards improving governance, coordination, and greater Afghan ownership of the problem of mines and ERWs. This could possibly be achieved by establishing a new governance structure, which calls for an enhanced Afghan ownership, inclusiveness and accountability towards the Afghan people, the centerpiece of the international effort. The developmental and governance challenges in Afghanistan by the present Taliban takeover of Kabul remains, and Afghanistan continues to be an ongoing and protracted conflict situation which needs sustained international attention and clear benchmarks on demining.

In addition to security, mine action is a humanitarian and development challenge. In a scenario of competition for limited resources and lack of attention with the time of Taliban takeover and the conflict in Ukraine taking much of the international attention, the dangers of mine action slipping off the radar is not a remote possibility. This has to be addressed immediately in order to prevent Afghanistan from returning to endless cycles of violence and destruction.

(Dr Shanthie Mariet D’Souza is the President and Founder of Mantraya. She currently is a Visiting Fellow in the Research Division Asia at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). She has conducted field research in various provinces of Afghanistan for more than a decade. This text was first published in the NCT magazine. It is republished as part of Mantraya’s ongoing “Fragility, Conflict & Peace Building” project. All Mantraya publications are peer-reviewed.)