It is a well-known but tragic fact that the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) long outlasts the conflicts in which they were used. These persistent dangers can last for generations, limiting access to agricultural land and dragging down national economies. These dangers also make it even harder for people struggling to recover from conflict to rebuild their lives and provide for their families. Years after the battle is over, landmines and UXO remain hidden in fields, roads and even footpaths, until a civilian unknowingly treads on them, or a small child finds UXO and – thinking it is a toy – triggers a deadly explosion. Every day local people risk their lives as they go about their normal tasks, and farmers are especially at risk. Farming should not be a dangerous occupation, but it is when you live near a minefield.
Tajikistan inherited an enormous stockpile of aging ammunition, including large-caliber ordnance and other explosives, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Due to its porous borders with Afghanistan, massive quantities of poorly secured small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) and ammunition continue to present a real threat to national and regional security. Tajikistan also has extensive landmine contamination along its southern, western, and northern borders from both its civil war in the 1990s and earlier Soviet attempts to prevent border crossings by Afghan militants and narcotics traffickers. During its civil war fought from 1992 to 1997, Tajikistan’s Central Rasht Valley region was heavily contaminated with landmines and UXO. These hazards especially continue to impede development and threaten lives in this fertile region as valuable agricultural land remains off-limits to productive use. Here, crossing the border, farming, gathering firewood, or tending to your flock could cost you your life.
Since 2005 the United States has invested more than $29 million in Tajikistan to clear landmines and UXO, destroy excess and aging munitions, improve physical security and management of SA/LW and ammunition stockpiles, assist survivors of landmine and UXO accidents, and build Tajikistan’s enduring national capacity to effectively handle these problems in the long term through the Tajikistan National Mine Action Center (TNMAC).
The TNMAC directly coordinates and supervises efforts to remove these lingering threats and release land back to local communities for safe and productive use. Humanitarian demining operations are implemented by various government organizations, including TNMAC, the Ministry of Defense, the Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defense, the State Committee for National Security, and the National Guard as well as international humanitarian organizations like Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). Demining teams operate with financial support from the United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Government of Norway, and the Republic of Tajikistan.
As a regional leader in humanitarian mine action and explosive hazard remediation, Tajikistan is successfully managing aging stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. The nation has also been adept at clearing landmines and other explosive hazards along its borders and within the central Rasht Valley region.
The minefield known as ‘MM6’ lies near the village of Navobad, within the Jamoat Mehvar region of Pyanj District. It blocked a channel used for water discharge – from arable land to the Pyanj River – which resulted in loss of safe access to this important resource. This left the local population unable to clean and maintain the channel that is vital to their agriculture. Over time, the channel became covered with stones and clay, eventually flooding the surrounding arable land and road near the Tajik-Afghan border. This further impeded productive agricultural use.
In 2020, U.S.-funded demining teams finally cleared all mines and UXO from MM6 and released these lands back to local authorities. The channel also was fully cleared of explosive hazards, cleaned up, and renovated, which restored roughly 27 acres of cultivated land and 1km of access road to productive use. The return of this land has significantly improved the socio-economic situation for the local population, who can again grow crops and use the road to transport them to market.
Sarinamac and Porvor Villages
The soil near Sarinamac and Porvor villages in the Shamsiddin Shohin District is stony, so local residents were forced to travel into the surrounding hills and mountains in search of more fertile land for sowing wheat. However, Russian forces had laid mines in this area in 1993. In 2017, local authorities requested assistance from the TNMAC who in turn, assigned U.S.- and OSCE-funded demining teams to the task. Since then, these teams have cleared over 240 acres.
TNMAC will release the land for safe use later in 2021. One farmer noted in an interview that the community is eager to take advantage of the improved access to this fertile land in order to re-start agricultural activities.
Mine Clearance within Khatlon Region
Since 2017, TNMAC has managed and supervised 10 teams in mine clearance operations along the Tajik-Afghan border. So far their work has resulted in the clearance of 232 acres of land along the border.
The TNMAC has also overseen the safe construction of the border road in the Khatlon Region from the Nuriddin Mahmud Jamoat District to the Shamsiddin Shohin District.
Mr. Iskandar Shahbazov, a resident of Sarigor village in the Shamsiddin Shohin District, told demining teams that about 20 families of more than 100 people used to live in Sarigor village before they left due to the border conflict. Upon completion of demining operations, the district government began repairing the roads to support greater agricultural development and spur economic growth in the village. Now, thanks to this landmine clearance project, local residents have begun to return to their land, build new houses, and restart local agriculture and mining activities, providing safe and productive livelihoods for more than 50 local villagers.
Today, PM/WRA continues to work with its implementing partners to reduce these threats both in Tajikistan and across the globe. The United States remains the world’s largest international donor to CWD, providing more than $4 billion to support humanitarian mine action, physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) and associated activities in over 100 countries since 1993.
For more information on how the State Department is strengthening human security, facilitating economic development, and fostering stability through demining, risk education, and other conventional weapons destruction activities, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Bridgett R. Hess serves as the Assistant Program Manager for South and Central Asia, in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.