Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

June 2000 (Vol. XXIV No. 3)


Diffusion of Landmines in Afghanistan
By Shalini Chawla *


Afghanistan has been at war for the last 22 years. During the last two decades, it has assumed phenomenal international dimensions. Initially, it was a fight against the Red Armies’ occupation (1979-89) and then, after the departure of the Red Army, a struggle amongst various tribal leaders to rule Afghanistan. The major players in this Afghan war were the Mujahideens, the Red Army, the Taliban and various tribal groups. One of the important components of this ongoing civil war in Afghanistan has been extensive use of landmines by every group to immobilise the other groups from any movement. This is one of the most brutal aspects of the 22 year old ongoing war in Afghanistan.

According to various estimates, millions of landmines have been used in the Afghan war. Usage of landmines has killed thousands of people in Afghanistan and has led to total disruption of Afghan lives. Though United Nations has been successfully instrumental in its demining programme in Afghanistan; due to lack of national infrastructure in the country and plantation of new mines the problem has not yet been completely weeded out. In this paper, an attempt has been made to examine this problem and the demining operations.


Use and Location of Landmines

Afghanistan remains one of the most seriously landmine afflicted countries in the world. Though figures differ, in May 1999, it was estimated that 700 sq. km. of the country remained mined, about half of which has a significant impact on the lives of the Afghan population. 1

Landmines have been planted indiscriminately over most of the country. Agricultural farms, irrigation canals, residential areas, grazing areas, roads and footpaths, both in urban and rural areas are contaminated. During the first 13 years of conflict, that is, during Soviet occupation and also during the Soviet supported rule of Najibullah, Soviet and Afghan government troops placed antipersonnel mines around their security posts, military bases and strategic points for protection; in the outskirts of cities to stop the advance of Mujahideen forces, as well as in and around villages to depopulate them to reduce local support for the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen, on the other hand, planted mines (mainly antitank) on the main roads and supply routes of Soviet and government troops to reduce their mobility and cut short their supplies. Most of the mines were laid in and around the provinces bordering Iran and Pakistan, and alongside the Salang Highway connecting Kabul with the former Soviet Union. 2


Impact of Landmines

Landmines continue to jeopardise the security of the people of Afghanistan. 3 The country is still littered with hazardous explosive devices, meaning that even in areas where conflict has ceased, civilians risk being killed or injured by this weapon. Men, women and children live in fear of the footpaths and fields around them. Refugees and displaced people are afraid to return to their homes. Fear of landmines continues to play a major role in the lives of the Afghans.

Mines have had a devastating socio-economic impact. Since the majority of minefields in Afghanistan have been found in agricultural and grazing lands and in or near irrigation systems, they have been rendered unusable (as shown in Table 1). Landmines are responsible for depopulating vast tracts of the countryside, affecting crop harvests and interfering with the transportation of food supplies into the cities. Roughly 50 percent of Afghan villages and an estimated 25 per cent of paved roads have been destroyed or ruined. 4 During the conflict, one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering a combined peak of more than 6 million refugees. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) feel that landmines were the primary reason for refugees leaving Afghanistan and not returning home. 5

While more than half of the refugees from the war against the Soviets have returned to Afghanistan, other, smaller waves of refugees left Afghanistan–particularly Kabul–after the Mujahideen came to power in Kabul in 1992 and after the Taliban captured the city in 1996.

GDP has fallen substantially since 1982 because of the loss of labour and capital and the disruption of trade and transport. The UNDP now rates Afghanistan as the 171st out of 173 countries in terms of greatest poverty and least development. Landmines have severely undermined the economy of the nation and reconstruction measures have become difficult.

Landmines have threatened peace in Afghanistan as well as impeded post-conflict recovery and reconstruction by preventing the delivery of government services and acting as physical obstacles to unity and reconstruction. Afghans continuously suffer physical and psychological trauma caused by mine explosions.



The human cost of landmines in Afghanistan is staggering. Hundreds of thousands of people have been maimed and killed. Because of the widespread location of mines, the major activities of the rural population which are tilling fields, herding livestock, and foraging for wood and food have become dangerous (as shown in Table 3).

Medical reports show that some 1,606 out of a total of 9,050 war-wounded patients admitted to various medical facilities in 1995 were mine victims. These figures, however, are incomplete because they do not include data from all of Afghanistan’s hospitals and because of non-reporting (many injured persons die out in the fields and on mountain-sides before making it to a hospital). Total mine victims in the country, dead and wounded, can only be estimated. An estimate can be garnered from the figures for the year 1995 alone which were about 4,000. 6

Peaks of mine casualties were recorded in 1992 and again in 1995. These increases coincide with two phenomenon. The first was a large influx of returning refugees in 1992, many of whom entered mined areas in the region on their return without knowing the full extent of the dangerous areas. The second peak represents an upsurge in military activity between the Kabul government and the Taliban movement. This military activity included the large scale use of mines in the city of Kabul itself, which resulted in a large number of casualties, both combatants and civilians.

A comparative study of people admitted in various hospitals due to mine injuries and others as shown in Table 2 is as follows:


Table 2. Admissions of New War Wounded–1995
Medical Facility Mines Fragments GSW Burns Total % M-W
Karte Seh Hospital (MOH) 280 739 475 75 1569 17.8%
Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital (MOH) 318 1176 920 19 2433 13.1%
Quetta Hospital (ICRC) 306 689 566 0 1561 19.6%
Kandahar First Aid Post 75 100 158 9 342 21.9%
Jalalabad University Hospital 249 110 547 3 909 27.4%
Mazhar-I-Sharif Hospitals 190 132 1126 10 1458 13.0%
Pul-I-Khumri Hospitals 263 339 460 58 1120 23.5%

MOH = Ministry of Health
GSW = Gunshot Wounds
Fragments = shell, grenade, bomb fragments
% M-W = percentage mine-wounded patients

Kandahar FAP: patients transferred to Quetta or Kabul hospitals, statistics from 16.07.95 to 31.12.95.

Source: International Committee of The Red Cross, The Deadly Legacy, In Figures, Afghanistan, (Geneva, ICRC, 1996), p 2.


Table 3. Activities of Mine Wounded at Time of Injury
Period Travelling Working in field/Fetching Combat Other
June 1992-1993 160 116 4 410
1994 50 73 2 117
1995 35 27 87 145
Source: International Committee of The Red Cross, The Deadly Legacy, In Figures, Afghanistan, (Geneva, ICRC, 1996) p 8.


Production and Transfer

There is no evidence of landmine production in Afghanistan, past or current, by any government or warring faction. 7 Also, Afghanistan is not known to have ever exported mines. The pro-Soviet Afghan government received supplies of large quantities of antipersonnel (AP) mines from the former Soviet Union. The US and its allies provided mines to the Mujahideen and Iran has been accused of supplying mines to the opposition forces. Though exact types and quantities of mines transferred cannot be ascertained, types of mines from several countries have been found in Afghanistan and are listed below in Table 4:


Table 4. Types of Mines Found in Afghanistan and their Origin
Country of Origin Mines
Belgium NR-127
China Type 69, Type 72
Ex-Czechoslovakia PP-MI-SR, PP-MI-SR-II, PT-MI-K, Pt-Mi-K
Ex-USSR G-Vata-6, MON-100, MON-200, MON-50, OZM-3, OZM-4, OZM-72, OZM-UUK-AP, PDM-2, PFM-1, PFM-15, PGMDM, PMD-6, PMD-6M, PMN, PMN-2, PMP, POMZ, POMZ-2, POMZ-2M, TC-6-AT, TM-41, TM-46, TM-57, TM-62, TM-62M, TMB-44AT, TMDB, TMK-2, TMN-46, MON-90
Ex-Yugoslavia PMA-IA, TMA-5
Italy SB-33, SH-55, TC-2.4, TC-3.6
Pakistan MD-2, P2-Mark 3
Singapore VS-MK2
United Kingdom Mark-2, Mark-7
Zimbabwe RAP-2
Source: Landmine Monitor Report 1999: Toward a Mine-Free World, (United States of America, Human Rights Watch, 1999), p. 436.


Mine Ban Policy

Afghanistan has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. This is due to the unstable political situation and the status of Afghanistan’s seat in the United Nations. Though the Taliban controls 80-90 per cent of the country, the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, ousted by the Taliban in September 1996, still holds Afghanistan’s UN seat. The Taliban has formal diplomatic recognition from only three governments. However, statements in support of a comprehensive ban on AP mines have been made by both the Taliban and the ousted government.

Mullah Muhammad Omer, the supreme leader of the Taliban, in October 1998 issued a statement in which the Taliban “strongly condemns’” the use of landmines as an “un-Islamic and anti-human act”, expresses strong support for the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, and declares, at the national level, “a total ban on the production, trade, stockpiling and use of landmines”. 8

The Rabbani government, in a statement to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 1996, declared its support for an immediate and comprehensive ban on AP mines. It had previously, during the 1994-1995 preparatory meetings for the Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, called for a ban on production and export, but not use. 9 The Rabbani government voted in favour of the December 1996 UN General Assembly Resolution calling on states to pursue vigorously an international agreement banning AP mines, but was absent for the votes on the pro-ban UNGA resolutions in 1997 and 1998. The government attended the preparatory meeting of the Ottawa Process but did not participate in the treaty negotiations in Oslo in September 1997.

The Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines (ACBL), an NGO composed of national and international NGOs working in Afghanistan established in 1995, reports that all the major military opposition factions have expressed their support for the landmine ban process.



The Geneva Accords signed in April 1988 signalled the end of the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, and it was widely assumed that the government led by President Najibullah would not survive the withdrawal of Soviet forces and that an administration reflecting the composition of the Mujahideen resistance would soon take over. The general expectation was that peace would prevail and millions of refugees would flood home from neighbouring countries. As landmines led to total disruption of lives in Afghanistan, there was realisation of an immediate need for a massive humanitarian and economic rehabilitation programme to facilitate repatriation and the reconstruction of basic infrastructure and services in the country. Prevalence of landmines represented a serious threat to peace building activities, including regeneration of agricultural production and thus demining came as the most important challenge for the region, which was also important in order to avoid massive casualty rates.

Organisation for Demining

The UN established the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian and Economic Assistance Programs (UNOCHA) in 1988, relating to Afghanistan. It subsequently created its Mine Clearance Program (UNMCP), now called the Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA), to govern and manage all humanitarian demining activities. Given the political difficulties of basing in Kabul before a new government was formed, the headquarters of UNOCHA was located in Geneva.

UNOCHA negotiated an agreement whereby the conflicting groups agreed to allow the UN to undertake all humanitarian action in all parts of Afghanistan. This meant that UN and associated personnel could move freely from one commanders’ territory to another and cross-border from Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian Republics. UNOCHA organised interagency assessment missions in 1988 and subsequently initiated cross-border operations. The understanding which prevailed was that these initial activities would “jump start” rehabilitation that would begin once a new government in Kabul was established.

The peace consolidation initiative in Afghanistan did not involve the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission as happened in countries such as Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique where formal peace treaties have been concluded. Since UNOCHA’s June 1988 mandate included “direction and organisation of special tasks not within the mandate of any given United Nations agency”, it had little option but to assume responsibility of the organisation of UN support essential for the initiation of a mine action programme. 10

In the absence of a recognised government, UNOCHA took responsibility for planning, resource mobilisation, and developing a dialogue with donors and other concerned parties, including UN agencies and NGOs involved in relief and rehabilitation activities. The overall strategy formulation took place in UNOCHA headquarters in Geneva while the UNOCHA team in Islamabad was responsible for planning. UNOCHA, in effect, was the overall “governing authority” for mine action activities.

Due to the absence of standing UN capability to deal with mines, Governments of France, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States were invited to provide expertise to assess the problem. The assessment was based on secondhand, and largely anecdotal, information because military personnel seconded to UNOCHA were not allowed by their governments to visit Afghanistan and were largely based in Islamabad. The assessment teams initially reported that the mines were placed not only for military-strategic purposes but also to restrict the socio-economic activities in Afghanistan. 11



UNOCHA was instrumental in mobilising donor support for a coordinated programme. It was largely successful in ensuring that external funding was provided in a manner that supported a cohesive approach. The Afghanistan Emergency Trust Fund (AETF) was established in 1988, and was used to manage these funds. Germany provided an initial seed grant of $500,000. A successful pledging conference was convened in New York in October 1988, and resulted in a record making US $900 million for rehabilitation activities in Afghanistan. Pledges included a Soviet in-kind contribution of US $600 million (400 million rubles) and other contributions specifically for mine action activities. 12

By 1994, a consolidated appeal was being issued annually by the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA). Each year UNMCP has been successful in raising a higher proportion of its proposed budget through this appeal process.

European Union (EU) funding for mine action activities has been significant. It does not contribute to AETF but directly funds the NGOs working in this direction. But EU financed projects are clearly coordinated with UNMCP with respect to technical and financial procedures, levels of pay and conditions of service.

The mine action programme attracted funds successfully and thus was able to operate effectively even in the middle of political instability and sporadic warfare. Also, this was certainly a reflection of concern of the international community to combat the problem of mines.


Contracting Out Work to NGOs

Since UNOCHA’s basic reason was to secure a coordinated UN response, it was wary of becoming directly involved in operational activities, notwithstanding its mandate to assume direct responsibility for tasks, other parts of the system were either not equipped for or were unwilling to address. Also, with the change of course in the programme, it became necessary to find implementing partners which could operate in Afghanistan. UNOCHA defined and stuck with the concept of supporting the development of Afghan mine action NGOs.

There was a great deal of skepticism regarding the creation of Afghan NGOs into a viable proposition, given both the nature of Afghan politics and the conflicting interests of various parties in the struggle for political supremacy long waged in Afghanistan.

A major feature of UNOCHA’s revised vision of the mine action programme was its strong commitment to support Afghan NGOs through grant giving system. Providing Afghan NGOs with grants for specified tasks effectively insulated the mine action programme in the field from the constraints of UN rules and regulations on procurement of equipment and recruitment of personnel. Apart from financial assistance, technical assistance was also granted to the NGOs.

The first Afghan mine action NGO, Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), was founded in October 1989. The system of contracting out work to the NGOs meant that it was the responsibility of the NGO and its director to establish an internal management structure that was able to deliver the result for which it was contracted. These NGOs were established as autonomous entities. However, while formally independent of the UN, the Afghan NGOs had a strong identity with it. They were closely supervised by UNOCHA and obviously dependent on it for technical and financial support. To a certain extent, they were an intrinsic part of the UN led Afghan mine action programme.

The various NGOs that operated within the Mine Awareness and Clearance Training Programme (MACTP) that later became the UN Mine Clearance Programme (UNMCP) worked in an environment that was peculiar to the Afghan situation and differed significantly from other mine action programmes around the world. Most of the operational entities were Afghan NGOs which did not exist prior to UNOCHA and were developed, encouraged, supported, financed and advised by UNOCHA and expatriate technical advisers. An exception to this was the British NGO, HALO Trust, operating out of Kabul and highly resistant to coordination by UNOCHA. Another exception was the development of the Mine Dog Centre that was set up by RONCO with USAID funding. In addition, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was contracted to perform mine awareness activities from 1988-90, after which OMA (Organization for Mine Awareness), a UNOCHA -established Afghan NGO, took responsibility for such activities. 13

For victim assistance, numerous international and national NGOs provide medical treatment, rehabilitation and prosthetic devices.


Mine Action Activities

a). Mine Awareness

Mine awareness was given a significant position in the UN programme and the agencies involved in mine awareness have increased in number and function 14 . The agency that has trained the most people in Afghanistan is the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR) with more than one million people trained in 1997 and 1998. Other agencies involved in mine awareness education are the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), The Refugee Relief Group of Ansar (RRGA), Save the Children Fund (SCF/WSA), Handicap International (HI), The Ansar Relief Institute and the Afghan Mine Awareness Agency. Effective mine awareness programmes exist in Afghanistan. Some three million people had received mine awareness education at the end of 1996. In 1997 alone 986,529 people received mine awareness education and in 1998, another 652,934 people received mine awareness education bringing the overall total to more than 4.6 million people with mine awareness training. 15

b). Mine Clearance

The MAPA programme is one of the world’s largest civilian mine clearance programmes, and is considered by many to be the most successful and cost effective programme in the world. 16 The Afghan programme has proven to be very open to new approaches and technologies. This programme has been operating in varied geographical locations and climatic conditions and is still maintaining a systematic approach and achieving highly efficient results.

Since 1990, an area of 146 square kilometers has been cleared. 17 Currently, an average of more than 30 square kilometers of land is cleared each year at a cost of about 60 cents per square metre. UN reports that more than 650,000 mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) have been destroyed18.

Mine clearance operations are carried out through the following means:

1. Manual Mine Clearance–Manual mine clearance teams operate with ATC, Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA), HALO Trust, Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR) and Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA).

2. Mechanical Mine Clearance–The use of excavators (Backhoes) to assist demining teams has been developed and has proven to be highly successful in increasing the productivity of manual demining teams.

3. Mine Detection Dogs (MDC)–MDC has been effectively using dogs for certain types of clearance activities. The mine dog component of the MAPA is internationally accepted as a reliable, cost effective and rapid mine clearance process. Dogs are effective in the detection of minimum metal plastic mines which are difficult to detect using conventional mine detectors.

4. Battle Area Clearance (BAC)–BAC teams were created in 1994 and have been successful in clearing a substantial area of former battlefields.

5. Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)–UXOs are a big threat to Afghans, particularly to the inhabitants of Kabul city. EOD teams focus on the destruction of sophisticated and high technology UXOs in the inflicted areas.

Another interesting feature of the demining programme is that it has developed a system of prioritising areas for clearance operations to ensure the best utilisation of mine action resources. MAPA prioritises based on the following:

1. The area to be demined should be free from conflict and secure.

2. The affected population will be benefitted socially and economically immediately after demining.

3. Local people are cooperative.

4. Request for assistance from local authorities.

5. Refugees returning to the area.

6. Area should be free from poppy cultivation or complying with the UNDCP policies. 19

Also, MAPA’s management information system is maintained by MCPA. The database has a wide range of information and data relating to the mine contamination in Afghanistan, records of minefields cleared and marked as well as data relating to landmine injuries.



Landmines have deeply influenced the Afghan society. So, even before it became apparent that peace was not an easy proposition in Afghanistan, the international community negotiated and secured access in a country split into rival factions and ever changing alliances. UN’s early and continuing ability to negotiate access for humanitarian purposes was crucial to the success of the mine action programme.

Afghanistan’s demining programme exists despite the absence of Central Governmental direction. In fact, the programme has been generally considered successful and other countries use Afghanistan’s mine clearance, mine awareness and victim assistance components as models.

The Afghan programme has been an important voice in pushing for greater interaction among different country programmes. As the most mature UN supported humanitarian mine action programme in the world, it has participated actively in conferences and other mechanisms designed to facilitate an exchange of views and perspectives.

Afghanistan needs to focus on establishing a strong national infrastructure to support and extend the substantial international demining programme now in effect for some more years to come. Also, even though casualty and disability rates maintain a high ratio in the region, according to the Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines, there is no disability law in Afghanistan. This aspect demands attention from the country. It is also noteworthy that Afghanistan, the country worst affected by landmines in the world, supports the ban of mines but has still not provided any formal written statements.

Though the demining programme, despite its inherent weakness due to lack of national infrastructure in the country and unilateral nature of the programme, continues to operate effectively, plantation of new mines is taking place. The Rabbani Government still accuses the Taliban of new use of anti-personnel mines. 20 If plantation of fresh mines continues, return of Afghan life to normalcy level would be difficult.



Note *: Researcher, IDSA.  Back.

Note 1: United Nations General Assembly, “Report of the Secretary General: Assistance in Mine Clearance,” A/54/445, October 6, 1999.  Back.

Note 2: International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 1999: Toward a Mine-Free World, (United States of America: Human Rights Watch, 1999), p.435.  Back.

Note 3: For details of the impact of landmines, see Human Rights Watch, Arms Project and Physicians for Human Rights, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993).  Back.

Note 4: For detailed data of the social cost of landmines in Afghanistan, see Neil Andersson, Cesar Palha da Sousa, Sergio Paredas, “Social Cost of Landmines in Four Countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Mozambique”, British Medical Journal, Vol. 311, September 16, 1995. pp. 718-721.  Back.

Note 5: US Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, September 1998 - <>  Back.

Note 6: International Committee of the Red Cross, The Deadly Legacy, In Figures, Afghanistan, (Geneva, ICRC, 1996), p 1.  Back.

Note 7: Landmine Monitor Report, 1999: Toward a Mine Free World, n.2, p 434.  Back.

Note 8: Ibid, pp. 433 - 34. The statement more fully says:


Note 9: Human Rights Watch Arms Project Fact Sheets, “Nation Calling for a Comprehensive Ban on Antipersonnel Landmines,” April 1996 and January 1996.  Back.

Note 10: United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, Afghanistan: The Development of Indigenous: Mine Action Capacities, (New York: DHA, not dated), p 8.  Back.

Note 11: Ibid, p 9.  Back.

Note 12: Ibid, p 10.  Back.

Note 13: Ibid, p 15.  Back.

Note 14: A variety of different approaches have been used for mine awareness, programming including direct training by mobile teams, community based training and broadcast of mine awareness messages through the radio and mass media.  Back.

Note 15: Landmine Monitor Report: Toward a Mine Free World, n. 2, p. 441.  Back.

Note 16: ccording to United Nations General Assembly, “Report of the Secretary General: Assistance in Mine Clearance,”A/53/496, October 14, 1998. The programme has continued to focus on cost efficiency, maintaining an overall clearance cost per metre of around US$ 0.60. In particular, the cost efficiency of using dogs has continued to improve with costs reduced from US$ 0.44 per square metre in 1995 to US$ 0.25 per square metre in 1997/98.  Back.

Note 17: MCPA, Socio-Economic Impact Study of Mine Action Operations–Afghanistan, Interim Report by MCPA to United Nations, MAPA, October, 1998. As cited in Landmine Monitor Report: Toward a Mine Free World, n 2, p 438.  Back.

Note 18: Afghan Mine Action Program <>  Back.

Note 19: For a clear understanding of the priority system used by MAPA, see Afghan Mine Action Program <>  Back.

Note 20: Press release, Islamic State of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 23, 1998.  Back.