The concept of humanitarian mine action was developed in Afghanistan in 1989. Due to the scale of the problem, the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA) is one of the largest mine action programmes in the world. It has a twenty-six-year history of successfully delivering mine action in Afghanistan. Along the way, MAPA has lost few of its good men and few have lived to tell the tale of achievements, successes, sufferings and hard-work.
In recent years, MAPA has suffered from many insecurity incidents, where the staff and supporters of the programme were targeted, abducted and killed by unidentified armed groups. Despite decreasing security in Afghanistan, mine action continues bravely.
Following is the story of Sayed Mohammad, who joined the programme back in its early days as a de-miner. He is still in mine action and shared his story and his experience of his life with Paiwandgah Citizen Journalist Noorullah Elham. He narrated the story of an recent mine related situation he experienced:
I joined mine action training courses of ‘Operation Salam’ in Peshawar, Pakistan in September 1989 and I am still working in mine action. The main reason I pursued this career was so that I could save lives of my countrymen, women and children. Through my work I hope to be able to save our people from the misery of land mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).
The situation of Afghanistan was very bad in terms of contamination at that time. Following our trainings, we came to Afghanistan and started working, but were very worried, since even the civilian pathways were not safe. My family was concerned for me; they still are. They waiting for my arrival eagerly everyday. However, I have been lucky and survived all these years. I still remember working in Urgon District of Paktika Province where we were first deployed. We used to work at the deserted fields heavily contaminated by different types of land mines.
Let me share the recent security incident that happened with me. At approximately 9am on June 10, 2014, we arrived at our assigned area at the Aynak copper mine. We offloaded our equipments from our vehicles and began setting them up. The morning briefing by the team leader was still underway when an unknown armed group detonated an explosive device in our parking lot. Our vehicles were damaged and it was a moment of chaos. We ran in different directions. We were lucky that the planted explosive materials were at a distance from us. Soon after the explosion, small arms firing started, and everyone on their own and running for his live. I saw our colleagues being shot in their backs. The firing took about two hours and as a result of the incident, eight of our de-miners were killed and three others injured.
When I joined mine action in its early days, we would lose a colleague or a friend every week or two. The times were very harsh and disappointing. Even now we sometimes face threats and insecurity. Sometimes we feel very disappointed, but never have we considered leaving our duties. We, as countrymen have dues to pay to our nation, Afghanistan. Now that we are trained and experienced in mine action, it is our holy duty to work and clear our homeland of land mines and ERW as soon as possible.
As a de-miner, I think it is possible to clear land mines in five to six years, even if our country is not contaminated with any new mines. Certainly, to complete the job, we have to have enough budgets for the programme; and yet, our colleagues are often laid off due to lack of budget. They hope to come back and start their work soon.
Let me share a good memory of my experiences in mine action. We were working in Deh Khudaidad of Kabul after the civil war, and the area was heavily contaminated. Suddenly, we noticed that a man has crossed our safety barriers and entered into a minefield. I took a PA and called upon him to stand still. I and my colleague by the name of Sayed Faqir (RIP, he was killed by an anti personnel mine (AP) during a de-mining operation later) went to save him. We took mine detectors and other equipments and started clearing our pathway towards the person. We detected and defused ten AP mines in the process and saved him after hours of work. That is one of my most satisfying memories of the duty.
My message to all my brother de-miners is that if they are on the job, they should work hard to clear Afghanistan. They should use their skills and tools to their maximum capacity in order to get the job done. I am personally happy about what they do and I think they are doing fantastic jobs all over the country. And for those de-miners who are not working, they should share their understanding of risks of mines and ERW with their local communities. They should make them aware of the risks and threats. They should talk to children and youngsters and educate them about the risks of mines and ERW.
My humble request to the Government of Afghanistan is to support our program in whatever way possible and provide security so we can achieve our goal of a mine-free Afghanistan by 2023. I also request our generous donors and other international society members to support us financially and morally. They should not forget that Afghanistan is still one of the highly contaminated countries in the world.
My request to our gallant people is to support us and guide us in our work. People should stay in contact with us and inform us if an area seems contaminated or if an accident occurs. People should also pay serious attention to our guidance and awareness related to risks of mines/ERW.
In the end, I would like to say that when we are on the field, and our mine detectors make a sound, we do feel alarmed and little scared. Even a little piece of metal under the ground, threatens us. But it that is another day on the job. And similarly, when we find and destroy a mine, we feel a sense of achievement and extreme happiness, because we know that we just saved a life, or mitigated the risk of a person getting injured or becoming disabled by a hidden enemy.
Whether we are on the field clearing an area, or surveying a suspicious land or educating people or helping an incident survivor, I feel our job is a holy job. I personally pray that Almighty give us more power to work more for our country and people.
On of our landmark that makes me very happy and proud of our work, is Kabul University. I still remember the clearance operations in the university; it was heavily contaminated by land mines and ERW. Our jobs were very difficult at that time, but we cleared it and now it’s one of the important institutions in the country. Now when I see young boys and girls studying in different faculties of the university, I am moved to tears.
Currently, I am working on minefields of Surobi of Kabul Province. I know it is a dangerous job and I still hope to achieve our goals successfully.