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After the Taliban: Opportunities and Challenges in Mine Action in Afghanistan, 2002–2003

by Patrick Fruchet, External Relations Officer, UNMACA


The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA) was established under the auspices of the United Nations following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from the country in 1989. Originally tasked with helping the Afghans rid themselves of the landmines that the Red Army had laid, the Programme has evolved over time to deal with the mine and UXO contamination caused by the successor conflicts to the 1979–1989 Soviet-Afghan war. This includes the period of the pro-Soviet ruling government (1989–1992), during fighting between various factions from 1992–1995, during the Taliban era, in fighting with resistance forces from 1996 to September 2001, and finally, during military operations by and against the American-led Coalition in October–November 2001 and beyond. At present, Afghanistan has over 872 sq km of suspected mined land and an additional 450 sq km of land thought to be contaminated by UXO, making it one of the most mine- and UXO-affected countries in the world. Up to five people a day are killed or injured by mines and UXO; nearly 25 years after their original deployment, these weapons continue to terrorize the Afghan people and hinder the development process.

Each successive conflict has resulted in a changed operational environment for the MAPA. The October–November 2001 war that led to the ousting of the Taliban regime is no exception. However, unlike most of the conflicts, which simply increased the amount of contaminated land facing MAPA clearance and risk education teams, many of the changes associated with the emergence of an internationally recognized Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai have had a positive impact on mine action. This article will highlight some opportunities and challenges related to the change of regime and the increase in the flow of aid funds into Afghanistan as a result of this change.

An Internationally Recognised Afghan Government

The post-Taliban Afghanistan that emerged from the December 2001 Bonn negotiations following the Coalition military intervention featured an internationally recognized central government that indicated that it was ready to join international treaties, including the Ottawa Convention. Afghanistan has indeed joined the Ottawa Convention, becoming a State Party on 1 March 2003. In a tense region, Afghanistan's decision to unilaterally give up this weapon should be applauded; a number of Afghanistan's neighbors are not Parties to the Convention, including Pakistan, Iran, China and Uzbekistan.

That Afghanistan has taken this courageous step has provided the MAPA with the opportunity to plan its work around Convention timelines; a 10-year plan to make Afghanistan mine-effect free was endorsed by the government in March 2003. Costing models for the 10-year plan have been developed. We estimate that the total cost for making Afghanistan mine-effect free is in the order of $500 million (U.S.).

This regime change has also provided the United Nations with a host government that is eager to take over the management responsibility for mine action as soon as is practically possible. To this end, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs—the lead ministry for mine action within the government-led consultative group process—has been chairing meetings to plan the transition of the MAPA from United Nations to national administration. Representatives from other Afghan government ministries, mine action donors, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in mine action in Afghanistan have been active participants in these discussions.

However, the change in government has not been without its challenges, particularly with regards to security. The post-Taliban government is one that has had difficultly projecting power beyond the capital, Kabul; indeed, even within the capital, this factionalised government has been, to a large extent, protected by a mixture of Coalition forces and their Northern Alliance allies, and also by the UN-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). In the regions, factional commanders, whom some consider "warlords," quickly filled the security vacuum left by the defeat of the Taliban. The security environment within which the Programme now operates has had a detrimental effect on clearance and risk education activities. In the absence of clearly demarcated front-line areas in the ongoing low-intensity conflict in Afghanistan—a conflict that has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and dozens of Afghan and international aid workers since December 2001—the Programme has been forced to make extensive use of armed guards for the first time in its history. The MAPA has recorded over 50 security incidents against demining teams in the last two years, culminating in the murder of four Afghan deminers in February 2004. These four, employees of the Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, were traveling without guards in a part of the country considered to be safe when they were ambushed and shot to death. No arrests have been made in this case. Afghan authorities have suggested that the perpetrators of this crime could be elements loyal to the former Taliban regime.

More Money, Diverse Priorities

The fall of the Taliban has resulted in a large financial boost for the MAPA. Whereas in 2000 and 2001 the United Nations and the MAPA agencies were not able to raise all the money to fund a $20 million programme that employed 4,500 Afghan deminers and risk education workers, the 17 MAPA implementing agencies now employ almost 8,000 people. The budget has jumped to $60 million per year and this budget was fully funded in 2003. Early indications are that donors will continue to provide this level of support in 2004. This boost is largely due to the focus on reconstruction and peace-building in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The MAPA's traditional work in humanitarian mine clearance and risk education has also increased alongside these new requirements.

However, bringing in $60 million a year has come at a cost; with the increase in money has come an increase in the complexity of the Programme, with the United Nations and the MAPA implementing partners having to deal with a myriad of different funding modalities.

In Afghanistan, absent a regional or national mine action trust fund, the New York-based United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action (VTF) remains the largest single conduit for donor support. However, other donors provide grants to national and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan or sign service contracts directly with these NGOs or via other UN entities. In some cases, the donor in question is an Afghan government ministry, which has itself received international funding support. For example, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has contracted MAPA implementing partners for the clearance of Kabul International Airport.

The increased mine action funding that is a result of regime change in Afghanistan can be considered to fall into three major categories: humanitarian funding, reconstruction funding and peace-building funding.

Humanitarian Funding

Humanitarian funding is provided for the coordination and execution of mine and UXO clearance, victim assistance, and advocacy and risk awareness activities that are focused on responding to prioritized community needs, based on the current impact (both physical impact, in terms of deaths and injuries, and economic impact, in terms of access to agricultural lands and other productive assets.) Humanitarian mine action, whether it be clearance or risk education, yields immediate positive impacts. This is based on the prioritization of contamination inflicting casualties and impeding the fulfilment of basic human rights, including the right of return for refugees (demining returnee villages), to a livelihood and food security (providing access to agricultural and grazing land), to education (demining schools and paths to schools), and to healthcare (demining health clinics and paths to health clinics). The MAPA's prioritization system is currently being enhanced through the rollout of a Retrofit Landmine Impact Survey (LIS). The LIS is designed to identify those communities in most critical need of humanitarian mine action—mine clearance, mine risk education, victim assistance, dangerous area marking or the destruction of UXO. This is achieved through a questionnaire process that grades (or scores) the impact of mines and UXO on communities. A significant end-product of the process is the ability to identify the high-, medium- and low-impact communities. These scores can then be used as markers against progress. The Afghan survey includes a retrofit component so that the data collected over the past 14 years can be incorporated into the LIS's impact grading system.

Reconstruction Funding

Reconstruction funding is provided for the coordination and execution of mine and UXO clearance activities that are a precursor to major infrastructure projects such as road construction, power line repairs and irrigation system rehabilitation. This type of funding, whether provided through a grant or a service contract, tends to come from the same donor that is funding the infrastructure project. This allows the donors and their collaborators amongst Ministries and implementing partners to treat the demining teams as part of their overall available assets. This provides for maximum flexibility as the same donor controls the fund allocations for both the demining contractor and other construction contractors, and can thus line manage all of the contractors whose work is necessary for the completion of the reconstruction project.

Peace-Building Funding

Peace-building funding is provided for the coordination and execution of the Mine Action for Peace (MAFP) initiative and the destruction of anti-personnel mine stockpiles.

MAFP is a reintegration project designed to assist former fighters demobilized through an Afghanistan-wide demobilization, disarmament and reintegration process to fit into civil life again. Former fighters are trained in manual clearance, permanent marking, and mine risk education techniques and are given employment for 13 months. While part of each day is spent in mine action operations, the other part is spent in literacy and vocational training. The aim of the project is to develop a viable reintegration strategy for each former fighter.

This project is a full spectrum demobilisation option. It addresses the economic needs of demobilized fighters but also deals with problems of psychological adjustment and community acceptance. It also has the potential of expanding MAPA's mine and UXO clearance rates. The current project plan is to open places for 8,000 soldiers over a three-year period. In addition to providing a first-class reintegration option for the former fighters involved, this project will add a total of 8,000 man-years of demining to the Programme.

Given that Afghanistan became a State Party to the Ottawa Convention on 1 March 2003, the country must destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel mines on its territory within four years. Despite the destruction of over 5,000 stockpiled anti-personnel mines since the treaty entered into force, there is still a strong need to identify and destroy the large quantities of anti-personnel mines stockpiled around the country. As a result, the Ministry of Defence, with support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led ISAF and the MAPA, has developed a Strategic Plan for the National Destruction of Anti-Personnel Mines, which is based on lessons learned from a successful stockpile destruction pilot project carried out in Kabul in 2003 and early 2004. The stockpile destruction project aims to survey, assess, collect and destroy anti-personnel stockpiles around the country, develop national regulations on the transportation, storage and destruction of anti-personnel mines, and to conduct a public information campaign on the significance and scope of the stockpile destruction initiative. The NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA), which is NATO's principal logistic support management agency, will also be proving project management staff to assist the Ministry of Defence.


In order to mobilize resources through the humanitarian, reconstruction and peace-building channels, the United Nations and the MAPA NGOs have had to accept a myriad of different funding modalities alongside the traditional grants-based approach of the VTF. This has taxed the NGOs' ability to administer the grants and contracts management side of their operations. The United Nations has also been forced to increase and diversify its skills base. The United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA), working out of eight major cities in Afghanistan, now employs over 150 people, including 17 expatriates, to coordinate the increasingly complex MAPA and to manage host government and donor relations. Five of these expatriates, (including lawyers, fund-raisers and finance staff) work full time and another three senior managers dedicate part of their time to raise money or help the NGOs administer and report on the money that has been raised, with the rest of the expatriate time spent coordinating the NGOs' field operations or in support functions. To lessen the reliance on expatriates and to smooth the way for the eventual transition to national administration, the UNMACA has also beefed up the training capacity within the Programme and has introduced dedicated training courses for the NGOs in financial administration and accounting.

Despite the challenges, the emergence of a post-Taliban Afghan government has had a positive impact on mine action in the country, both in terms of being able to plan with a recognized government that is a State Party to the Ottawa Convention and also in being able to work with that government to raise the resources necessary to pay for the plan. The next challenge is to create the opportunity to transition a programme that has been administered by the United Nations for the past 14 years to a national authority that has the capacity to continue to manage this complex Programme in the years ahead. A thorough and detailed transition plan that sets out the criteria and milestones for a successful transition should be released in the coming months.

Contact Information

Patrick Fruchet
UNMACA External Relations Officer
P.O. Box No. 520
Kabul, Afghanistan
Tel: +870 762 918 170
Fax: +870 762 918 171