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Isolating the Taliban: Potential collateral damage from young landmine victims

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English - When a group of Afghan kids noticed a metallic object partially buried in the dirt, they were grazing she...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English - When a group of Afghan kids noticed a metallic object partially buried in the dirt, they were grazing sheep in the village of Bolak Wandi in eastern Helmand. They quarrelled over who had discovered it first and who could sell it for scrap as they crowded around in excitement.

One youngster was instantaneously killed when the mortar shell detonated.

As they were being carried to the hospital by Taliban fighters who had been nearby, three more kids perished from their wounds. One more passed away right away.

The father of two of the children, Haji Abdul Salam, stated, "I don't blame anyone." He makes an effort to give his wife some consolation as she sobs for her missing children.

"It's possible that the Soviet Union or the Americans left behind this mortar. However, this issue should be solved throughout Afghanistan, not only in our region."

The task has grown more challenging.

De-mining activities should have been aided by the Taliban's return to power last summer, which put an end to their 20-year insurgency. Large areas of land that had been inaccessible due to fighting were now accessible.

However, foreign governments have now halted their development assistance to the Afghan government because they do not want to use taxpayer funds to support the Taliban, an Islamist organisation that restricts women's rights and has been at war with the majority of the West ever since it took refuge from the 9/11 terrorist attacks with Osama bin Laden.

One unforeseen consequence: According to a previously unreported occurrence, the Afghan government agency in charge of mine clearance informed Reuters that it had lost its $3 million financing and had fired the majority of its 120 employees in April because it was unable to pay salaries.

Sayed Danish, the directorate of mine action coordination's deputy chief, claimed that "all the sanctions have adversely harmed us" (DMAC). "We can't carry out our primary responsibility, which is strategic work."

After an earthquake last month left thousands homeless and the health system under severe stress, the cost to regular Afghans of isolating the Taliban, who claim they are being unfairly treated, was also brought to light, prompting some demands for a fresh approach to the group.

The 40 million-person nation, which is one of the most severely mined locations on Earth as a result of four decades of war, might suffer severe repercussions from the loss of demining funding.

According to the U.N. mining agency, children account for almost 80% of civilian casualties from "explosive remnants of war," in part because they are naturally curious and frequently collect scrap metal to sell to supplement their families' finances.

According to the U.N. children's agency, 300 Afghan children were killed or injured by landmines and other unexploded weapons in the seven months leading up to March.

Four boys and a girl from Bolak Wandi, who ranged in age from five to twelve, perished in April.


Foreign governments have lifted their ban on humanitarian aid, and hundreds of millions of dollars are now entering the nation to support the operations of aid organisations.

However, the limitations of such funds, which were intended to bypass the government and satisfy immediate needs, are now becoming clear. According to many economists and analysts, the populace will suffer without strong state services and a healthy banking sector.

The funding for DMAC is a portion of the $9 billion in annual international development and security aid that the World Bank claims has been frozen since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, a country that is heavily dependent on foreign donors for its support.

According to Danish and aid workers, the de-mining work is primarily carried out by relief organisations, although DMAC offers strategic direction to prioritise high-danger locations and maps the nationwide de-mining work to prevent duplication of efforts.

According to Sren Srensen, director of humanitarian disarmament and peacebuilding for Afghanistan at the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), a global organisation, mine action is most effective when there is national-level coordination and control.

He continued, "Right now, all that is being done is that we select places from an old list. "That is ineffective and doesn't address the most significant risks."

The small village of Qafas Kalay is located in the eastern district of Khaki Jabbar, which was originally utilised by Soviet forces as a military outpost and more recently saw intense warfare as the Taliban seized the region. Srensen is travelling back to the capital Kabul while looking out the car window.

Although hundreds of explosives have been set off nearby, about 40,000 square miles still need to be cleaned. The U.N. de-mining organisation claims that hundreds of unexploded bombs are waiting to go off all over Afghanistan.

We now have this incredible window of time to actually purge this nation, Srensen stated. We have a lot of options.

About 20 kilometres east of Kabul, on a hillside outside of Qafas Kalay, DRC mine-clearing personnel look down at the ground while sweeping detectors.

They attach a small flag to a Soviet anti-personnel mine they've just discovered buried in the ground, connect it to a makeshift control centre hundreds of metres away, and start the countdown there. The explosive detonates, and the miners resume their laborious job.

Children on the threshold of a mosque a few miles distant study drawings depicting various explosive devices and the potential hiding spots for them.

When they spot one, their tutor instructs them on what to do.

The kids repeat passionately, "We don't go to that area and we report it to our parents.

The neighbourhood is already scrounging up scraps of de-mined land to plant wheat and fruit and constructing irrigation systems, innovations that can help ease Afghanistan's escalating hunger crisis.

People are suffering, it is true.

When questioned about the financial crisis and job cuts at DMAC, the U.S. Department of State stated that it will keep directly paying its NGO partners to support humanitarian de-mining efforts in Afghanistan. A spokeswoman claimed that since last August, it had given Afghans $720 million in total humanitarian help.

The foreign minister of Germany stated in June that until the Taliban modified its stance on things like women's rights, it was not possible to recognise them as a legitimate government.

Foreign governments aim to put financial pressure on the Taliban in order to persuade them to relax their limitations on women's and girls' access to employment, education, and freedom of speech.

Since regaining control, the group has closed girls' secondary schools, required that women hide their faces in public, and restricted their ability to leave the house without a male companion.

Retaliation assaults by the Taliban on former troops and intelligence officials who served in the Western-backed government have also been alleged by some.

The Taliban has pledged to uphold human rights and to look into claims of retaliation killings, claiming to have implemented an amnesty for former adversaries.

In addition, the Taliban claims to be tackling issues like females' secondary education and has urged Washington to unfreeze billions of dollars' worth of assets held by the central bank, claiming that Afghanistan needs a working banking system to reduce poverty.

A short-term agreement was achieved late last month when DMAC agreed to allow the UN to open an office there for roughly six months. However, with money for the temporary U.N. regulator barely half of what the Afghan agency had before the Taliban took over, only around 30 of the 120 staff members who were initially hired have been engaged, according to Paul Heslop, head of the U.N. Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan.

He continued by saying that for long-term sustainability, a state, not an external humanitarian organisation like a U.N. agency, should be in charge of managing de-mining.

Heslop stated that the position in which we find ourselves is one in which we have an unrecognised government and added that the absence of money was "extremely challenging."

"It's very difficult for the people of Afghanistan right now; they are truly suffering, even if you pay somebody, they can't get the money out of the banks."

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