October 21, 2009:
Earlier this year, China quietly began training Afghan police, in the area along the China/Afghan border (the Wakhan Corridor). This area has never been very violent, and escaped most of the fighting that has torn apart Afghanistan since the 1970s. But China refuses to open its border with Afghanistan, fearing complications with the mainly Moslem population on their side of the frontier.
While the Chinese training effort, which is fairly small, has been reported inside China, it has received little, or no, notice by the Western media. Then the Chinese began training Afghan deminers, and this did attract some foreign media attention. Last year, local de-mining teams cleared 82,000 antipersonnel and 900 anti-vehicle mines in Afghanistan. That's 20 percent of all the mines removed since the effort began in 1989. Warlords, drug gangs and the Taliban leave the de-miners alone, mainly because the de-mining work is enormously popular with all Afghans.
Eight years ago, 140 Afghans a month were being killed or wounded by all these mines. Now it is only about fifty (still the highest in the world). In the last twenty years, over 500 square miles have been cleared of mines. The de-mining effort is to be completed in four years. About a third of the country still has hundreds of minefields to be cleared. Each of these minefields prevents civilians from farming, grazing their herds, or travelling across the area. The mines cleared last year freed over 500 communities from the curse of having an un-cleared minefield in their midst. Even the Taliban benefit from the de-mining, because the Taliban often travel cross country in areas they are not familiar with. Travelling at night, they might miss signs posted to warn people away from an un-cleared minefield.
Foreign contributions pay to train, equip and pay the Afghan de-miners. The only foreigners directly involved in the operations are technical experts needed to repair gear, or train users on new equipment. But foreign mine clearing trainers are always popular. China has also brought army and police officers from Afghanistan and Iraq to demining courses in China. This is part of a program in which China has trained over 300 deminers from fifteen countries.