At a time when the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has urged India and Pakistan to impose a joint moratorium on the use of landmines, India was looking at the possibility of making some headway in this direction.
Especially after Pakistan agreed to send a delegation, including military officers, to take part in an international conclave on Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War: The Human Costs and International Responses, organised by United Service Institution, India’s oldest think-tank dating back to 1870.
The three service chiefs are the patrons of USI. But the Pakistanis “backed out abruptly” without communicating to the USI the reasons for staying away from the two-day event, attended by delegates from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Thailand, Canada and the Netherlands.
The USI, which was looking forward to sharing perceptions on mine action programmes with Pakistan, would have appreciated if they had honoured their commitment.
Brigadier Arun Sahgal (retd), who heads the USI’s Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation and was involved in organising the conclave, said, “It is disappointing that they did not turn up. We had booked rooms. The question on everybody’s mind was why did they stay away. It became a matter of intense speculation.”
The event, which ended on Thursday, was attended by senior officers from the army headquarters, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs. Both India and Pakistan have not signed the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which banned the use of anti-personnel landmines in 1997. Both rely heavily on landmines to secure their borders, as was evident during Operation Parakram launched after the December 2001 Parliament attack.
The Pakistanis had to make a “country presentation” and take part in panel discussions on the human cost of landmines and mine action. A participant said, “At a time when the world is trying to evolve a mine action strategy and is making efforts to raise awareness, inputs from Pakistan would have been interesting. The conclave could have served as a platform for India and Pakistan to share views on mine action as the former is reportedly the fifth largest landmine power in the world and Pakistan is the sixth.”
The vision for the United Nations Inter-Agency Mine Action Strategy for 2006-10 was a world free of landmine threat and explosive remnants of war, where individuals lived in safe environment.