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J&K Militants Pledge to Ban Use of Anti-Personnel Mines

Colonel Satinder K. Saini was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 24, 2007

    The United Jehad Council (UJC) – an umbrella organisation of 13 Kashmiri militant groups and five non-Kashmiri terrorist groups with observer status – signed a declaration on October 16 banning the use, production or trade of victim-activated anti-personnel mines as prohibited under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. It also affirmed to continue its struggle for self-determination guided by the rules of the four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 for the protection of victims of armed conflicts and the 1977 Additional Protocol relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts (Protocol I). The UJC stated in its declaration that the use of anti-personnel mines is equivalent to blind terror and is prohibited under Islam. It also clarified that it neither had nor shall use anti-personnel mines or any other victim-activated explosive device that can be triggered by the proximity, activity or contact of a human being or animal. Interestingly, it also called upon the Indian Armed Forces to immediately halt the use of anti-personnel mines or other victim-activated weapons in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). But at the same time, the UJC warned that it may continue to use command-detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the future.

    The original copy of the pledge was signed by Syed Salahuddin, chief of the UJC, and handed over to the mission member of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL) in Muzaffarabad (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). The ICBL is a network of more than 1400 groups in over 90 countries, working to eradicate anti-personnel mines. It calls for a worldwide ban on anti-personnel landmines, universal membership of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, support for the needs and rights of landmine survivors and demining and risk education to safeguard lives and livelihoods. The Mine Ban Treaty, also referred to as the Ottawa Convention, is an international agreement that bans anti-personnel landmines. Approximately 40 countries remain outside the treaty, including China, Egypt, Finland, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States. Armed opposition groups or “non-state actors” cannot become party to the Treaty, since only recognised governments can join. However, these groups can make use of mechanisms like Deeds of Commitment or Codes of Conduct, wherein they declare their commitment to stop the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines and co-operate in victim assistance and mine clearing activities.

    By committing themselves to this international agreement, militants in J&K have been able to garner media attention, raise their brand equity and share the same pedestal as state actors. However, this commitment also brings with it enhanced responsibility and obligation to implement the pledge at the functional level. The implementation aspect is a matter of honour, reputation and credibility. As a starting point, they need to understand and comprehend the ramifications of their commitments in the declaration.

    Article 2 of the Mine Ban Treaty defines the term anti-personnel mine as a “mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.” Further, a mine is a “munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area.” It is apparent from the definition that the Treaty does not take a narrow view of a mine being an explosive device buried under the ground, as is normally understood. Ipso facto, it also includes within its ambit all IEDs that are concealed elsewhere, subject to their means of actuation, wherein the victim is the initiator of the device.

    The UJC’s affirmation that militants in J&K have never resorted to the use of mines is untenable. They have been taking recourse to planting mines close to the border and also in remote areas in the hinterland on routes largely frequented by the Army. They continue to do so even now. Anti-personnel mines have been recovered repeatedly from militants infiltrating across the border. Moreover, the IEDs used by militants in the initial phase of militancy in J&K were predominantly mechanically initiated, requiring the victim to inadvertently disturb the device. They were not “command-detonated”. But over a period of time the trigger mechanism of IEDs has evolved to electric and radio-controlled means of initiation, wherein the presence of a terrorist for target discrimination and detonation became necessary. Consequently, militants will have to employ only command actuated IEDs now to uphold their pledge. Any unattended explosive device should be an anathema for them.

    It is, however, a common tactic of militants in J&K to booby trap their vacated hideouts in inaccessible areas and caches of arms and ammunition to inflict casualties on the security forces. And some injured militants who find themselves cornered often place hand grenades with safety pins removed under their equipment or body parts with the same intent. Such tactics will also need to be given up.

    Accepting allegiance to the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law also places significant obligations on the militants. One salient aspect is that “in any armed conflict, the right of the parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited. It is prohibited to employ weapons of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.” Moreover, weapons that are inherently indiscriminate and whose use violates “the public conscience” are also prohibited. Recent trends in J&K indicate militants and their outsourced agents resorting to grenade lobbing incidents in crowded places, ostensibly to target the security forces, but resulting in indiscriminate civilian casualties. Militants operating in that state will need to curb this tactic as well.

    The call for India and Pakistan to end the use of mines and victim-activated weapons needs to be viewed from the perspective of the obtaining security calculus. We need to make it clear to the ICBL that India has never used mines or other victim-detonated weapon systems in any internal security scenario, including in J&K. No new mines are being laid along the borders with Pakistan. Existing minefields, essentially astride the Line of Control on both sides, are a part of the accepted defensive layout. They minefields are fenced and marked properly so that civilians and cattle do not enter inadvertently. In fact, these minefields act as a deterrent to heavily armed infiltrating militants, restrict their avenues of movement, and facilitate successful interception by the Army. Perhaps, at this stage, it may be premature to think that they are redundant.

    In case J&K militant groups are serious about this issue, they will need to issue comprehensive guidelines to their cadre already operating in the state and also incorporate the changes required in the training imparted. Though India is not a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty, it will be in its interest to highlight any violations of the code that the militants have unilaterally pledged to adhere to.