Persisting challenges in demining in post conflict areas


By Brig. Gen. Basant K Ponwar, Inspector General of Chhattisgarh Police and Director Counter Terrorism & Jungle Warfare College, Kanker, India

In the 19th century Alfred Nobel introduced explosives to the world, the energy which can help to level hillocks to make roads, buildings, breaking rocks, and overall benefit economic development for the population. These explosives found their way to transform into weapons of destruction. Prior to the first World War, tanks with cross country mobility and armor protection were introduced in the battlefield as assault weapons to carry troops and guns into combat. Minds got together to come up with a response. The anti-tank mine was developed with just enough explosives to destroy the tank tracks to make the tank immobile. However, the weight required to blast an anti-tank mine varied from 100 – 300 kgs. 

This enabled anti mine neutralizing teams to walk over the anti tank mine and disarm them. Once again, battlefield experts gathered and introduced human anti-personnel mine that just needed a mere 100gr to 500 gr to be activated in order to prevent neutralizing teams from removing anti-tank mines.

An anti-personnel mine is easily laid or merely strewn across battlefield gaps to restrict enemy movement. Mankind over the years has suffered very extensively due to anti-personnel mines with casualties of limbs being blown out or inflicting lifelong wounds. A mine attacks anyone who puts a foot on it as mines do not differentiate between a soldier, innocent civilians, or animals. 

Mines are a weapon with a single goal: to cause casualty to whoever triggers it. When conflicts are over, millions of such anti-personnel mines are left behind in conflict areas like in North Africa, Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia. They are now causing heavy casualties among the local population, especially small children as they remain active for almost 50 – 60 years. Mines and Explosive remnants cause 15,000 – 20,000 injuries every year, which makes their eradication a moral imperative. 

Though billions of dollars are being spent on demining efforts there is a long journey ahead as demining operations are extremely time consuming. There are no records, so the entire countryside has to be searched. It is estimated that 110 million mines are in the ground and a similar amount can be found in countries’ stockpiles. 

Mines cost $3 to $30 whereas it is between $300 to $1,000 to remove them. It is now estimated that about 100,000 mines are getting removed per year. However, a superior number is being planted in the conflict zones. Even if the demining efforts remained the same and no more were planted, it will take several decades to get rid of active mines. What was started by Alfred Nobel for economic development of mankind found its way from small explosives to the devastating weapons of mass destruction. 

Banning of Land Mines    

An international campaign was launched by a coalition of organizations in some 100 countries with their Headquarters established in 1992 at Geneva to ban the use, production, and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines. In 1997, this coalition was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which it shared with its founding coordinator, American Jody Williams. She coordinated the launch of this campaign with the organizations of Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, Medico International and specifically the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. These efforts led to the negotiation of the Mine Ban Treaty signed by 122 countries in Ottawa (Canada) in December 1997 and currently has 164 State parties. The Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty reiterates the no use of Anti-Personnel Mines, calling for the destruction of stockpiles within four years and for state parties’ territory to be cleared of mines in the next 10 years.

However, 32 nations have not ratified it for different reasons, amongst them important ones such as the US, China, Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan. Many have argued there are no alternative means available for their own security and/or in their conflict zones.

Mine Threat

A deliberate minefield laid with records can easily be neutralized once the conflict is over by the belligerents. However, warring nations that have fought in battlefields across the world have left behind mines planted for the enemy nation. This is the basic reason which is causing severe casualties to residents. For example, during the Second World War, the axis and allied powers laid almost 3 million mines in North Africa – from the Mediterranean to the Qattara Depression – during the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942, called the ‘Devils Garden’. During the battle, a few safety lanes were made for the attacking troops to pass through then the forces moved westwards, leaving millions of mines behind which remain in position to this day, becoming more unstable as the years pass by and injuring people who use the area. This is the story in so many other conflict zones as in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Croatia, Iraq and now recently in Ukraine. 

As per United Nations rule 83 it is the duty of the parties to the conflict to neutralize the landmines laid by them, however, this has not taken place causing the home country to bear the burden.

Demining operations require specialized teams to carry out this horrendous task, usually individuals physical prodding, sniffer dogs, demining equipment, mechanical and aerial drones. A very slow process as the entire conflict zones must be searched. For example, a total area of 713 Sq Kms are affected by landmines in Afghanistan and only 146 Sq kms has been cleared in the last 8 years. Agriculture lands, 1,565 villages, roads, and grazing soils are also contaminated. Similar situation prevails in erstwhile conflict zones. Large funds have been provided by western countries for my operations for instance, and the demining process is still ongoing.

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)

The threat of IEDs is another weapon causing casualties that is available among terrorists and insurgents. In Central India the rebel group ‘Naxalites’ had been using them very effectively causing heavy damage to security forces and vehicles. A mine protecting a Casspir vehicle was blasted by use of 40 kg IED killing 24 security forces, a bus blasted killing 50 people. In this campaign, local villages were motivated to give to security forces information on suspicious digging, wires, or terrorist movements in the area. Measures implemented in that case were the banning of the electronic detonators in civilian agencies and a very tight and effective control on the explosives used in the mining industry.


For the benefit of the entire mankind the manufacturing of anti-personnel mines must be stopped. United Nations Coordinating Committee to monitor demining in so doing all suspected land mines areas to be isolated and marked. All means available to be utilized to rid the world of land mines so that innocent children do not have to spend their lives on crutches.

About the Author:

Brig. Gen. Basant K Ponwar, AVSM, VSM erstwhile Commandant of the Indian Army’s Counter Insurgency School Vairengte Mizoram where he conducted the first Indo – US Exercise Yudh Abhyas – 01 in Sep 2004 on CI/CT Operations. With this expertise he has set up a Counter Terrorism & Jungle Warfare College in the Jungles of Chhattisgarh to train Police forces from across the Nation in Guerrilla Warfare. Has trained over 38000 Commandos since 2005 the Naxalites (Terrorists) are on the run and situation is moving towards a Resolution. Bastar will soon become a popular National and International Tourist Destination.


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