Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Grapes on the Shamoli Plain - Afghanistan

I crossed Afghanistan's Shamoli Plain in 1997 to ascertain the viability of an agricultural rehabilitation programme. The area had once been famous for its vineyards and exports of grapes and raisins to neighbouring countries.

As one of the most fertile areas of Afghanistan in close proximity to Kabul, the Plain was cursed with anti-personnel mines from an earlier conflict. It was considered one of the most heavily mined area in Afghanistan.

Vineyards were abundant, but clearly untended for some years.  

Given the lack of foliage early in the year, it was evident that many landowners were collecting munitions and stacking them in the corner of their fields There were no indication of their condition or evidence of the danger they posed. 

Many fields were mined

Occasionally one could see the regular edges of dark metallic objects protruding from the mud. Some fields had been sprayed with butterfly mines whilst in others stick mines stood at odd angles. They were clearly deteriorating and far from secure. Bounding mines when detonated had the unpleasant habit of shooting into the air before lethally showering the surrounding area with shards of metal. Children and livestock were regular victims.  

All fieldwork was undertaken from the top of dykes and well walked pathways.

Later on in the year - 1997 - the tide began to turn against the Taliban, and they were to inflict appalling suffering on the principally Tajik population of this area before destroying irrigation channels, poisoning wells and destroying what crops they could find.

Now finally there is some good news for the Plain. By 2013 many minefields had been cleared and NGO’s were managing to bring the vineyards back into production.