| Recruits to the Indian Army at their graduation parade in Rangreth on the outskirts of Srinagar. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Jan. 4: More than 10 lakh mines — twice the number used in the 1971 war and three times that of the 1965 war — that were laid by the army along the International Border with Pakistan are now being cleared.
Even after Operation Parakram, the 10-month forward deployment of the armed forces, was called off, the official line from the government was that the troops were being “redeployed”. Not once did they say the military was being withdrawn and ordered back to the barracks.
Military strategists were looking for a firmer indication that New Delhi had given up for now the idea of a conventional conflict with Pakistan. That sign, they say, was whether the minefields along the border were being cleared.
In the first official confirmation that the front was being demined, an army spokesman today said mine clearing and recovery will take at least another three months.
Both India and Pakistan are not signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty. The military standoff that lasted through 2002 possibly saw the largest mine-laying operation in Asia since World War II.
The spokesman said till now, 28 per cent of the mines laid have been recovered. It will take the first quarter of this year before the army formally certifies that the areas along the border have been cleared of mines.
Army spokesman Brig. Shruti Kant said: “Mines were laid at night during the mobilisation. All details of the minefields were filled out by respective units in a Mine Record Form according to national and international conventions.”
Uncleared or shoddily cleared minefields are a potential hazard for civilians and soldiers. The mining of the border has already resulted in hundreds of casualties.
A report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines claims that there were 332 mine casualties in 2001 and another 180 till July this year. The army, however, says that during Operation Parakram 81 people were killed and 242 injured in mine blasts and related accidents.
The spokesman said it was still possible that mines had shifted because of natural and geographical reasons.
Clearing minefields is a painstaking process. A typical mine-clearing operation involves “prodding” the ground at a 45 degree angle with an iron rod called a “prodder”. If the “prodder” strikes metal, the unit involved immediately takes cover. Then a soldier has to use bare hands to carefully sift through the ground and recover the mine.
The army also uses mine detectors — an electronic device with a circular iron base at the end of a rod. This is little different from a metal detector. Its sensors give off a signal in the vicinity of metal. Some mines that have explosive encased in plastic are not detectable by these machines. The army has only a “very limited number” of the detectors.