Afia Salam's Blog

Life is a journey

Ladies try to rescue our threatened forests, but timber mafia still active!

with 20 comments

I want to thank some lady Parliamentarians. Yes I am being gender biased by making a distinction here but deliberately so. Kudos to Senator Saeeda  Iqbal and MNA Maryam Aurangzeb for the spunk they have shown in getting the order of former PM, Raja Pervez Ashraf of removal of ban on timber movement from Gilgit-Baltistan reversed.

This order had been passed by him on his last day in office, despite forests being a provincial subject and outside the purview of the Prime Minister. The seemingly innocuous order ‘allowed’ for the transportation of the illegally and legally cut timber that had accumulated there to lower down the country, but resulted in indiscriminate felling of trees in Diamer and the upper reaches by the timber mafia, which made a huge killing, to the tune of 8 billion rupees.

This fact was recorded by environmental activists and community stewards who were up against a powerful adversary and a powerless administration. No one wields greater power in those areas than the timber mafia that has been responsible for denuding our already meager forest cover, standing at a shameful 4.8 % as against the internationally recommended 25%. Of course the government claims it to be 5.3%, which is neither here nor there!

While friends of the environment, which are few and far between in this country anyway, learnt of the order, they immediately lodged protest. They know that the ‘movement’ would not be confined only to the existing stockpile. But their protests were slow to gain traction, especially as the timber mafia moved en masse to Islamabad to lobby.

However, thanks to activists like Khan Mohammad Qureshi, Ali, community members and friends in the media, the issue never really went away. They were hoping to raise enough of a hue and cry to bring it to the notice of the Chief Justice so he would take notice of this rape of Pakistan’s natural resources. The were also exploring the possibility of filing a petition and dragging Raja Pervez Ashraf to court to answer for this loot and pillage. Here it goes to the credit of the PPP Senator Saeeda Iqbal, who not only took notice of the issue, but asked for a summary to be moved against the order of the Prime Minister who belonged to her party. The Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change instructed the Secretary MoCC to move the summary for overturning the former PM’s order, despite the fact that this was a provincial matter.

The efforts started in April, but the slow pace of the due process has allowed for the indiscriminate felling of trees continued until again in June, another lady lent her strength to the cause. Marriyam Aurangzeb of PML-N and her colleague Junaid Anwar Chaudhury brought the issue to the floor of the National Assembly through a call to attention notice. Finally, the efforts bore fruit and the ban on transportation of timber has again been imposed w.e.f July 07, 2013. However, the delay in notifying this is alarming.

The latest pictures of just two days ago show that in the absence of the authorities receiving notification, timber is still being moved. This needs to be stopped right away. While the damage has been done, it is hoped the lead provided by these two ladies will be followed by others who can become champions of the country’s natural resources, and we hope to witness such cooperation across party lines, as these are our shared resources. We must also get over the folly of considering these matters to be contained within the provincial domain. Deforestation in the North does not only mean a reduced forest cover in that particular area, that lines the pockets of a certain mafia.

It portends disaster right down to the edge of the Arabian Sea in the form of floods waters that rage unchecked downstream, as they did in 2010. In these last four months of activism to stop the denudation of these forests, the one issue that surfaced in the discourse was of deforestation resulting in silting up of the Tarbela Dam. This is only a part of the problem.

We may be known internationally as a disaster prone country, but unfortunately have not really made a name for ourselves in disaster resilience. Deforestation in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kyber Pakhtunkhwa have disastrous effects on Punjab, parts of Balochistan and vast tracts of Sindh. One hopes we will be spared a rerun of what happened in 2010 after the monsoon deluge, but if any kind of disaster does strike due to this current deforestation spree, the timber mafia that has made billions should be made to foot the bill for relief and rehabilitation!


Written by afiasalam

July 14, 2013 at 2:50 am

20 Responses

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  1. These stupid politicians are so hungry now eating our next generations assets. I request to whole pakistani nation please plant a atleast one tree with your name each year. So we can increase 18 crore trees each year. This need less effort and you can save pakistan.

    S I ALI

    July 14, 2013 at 3:12 am

  2. Yeah
    Women can change the world including the forests this is true, bu the husband may not be like BB’s


    July 14, 2013 at 10:09 am

  3. it is to brave women that this complex issue is alive, Afia being one of them Helga being another and one cannot forget Zahrah Nasir and a few good men like Fyaz Baqir and Dr Anees . But what next are the poor owners to get their due share and will they ever get cash for not cutting trees as promised by Climate Change treaty under what they call REDD


    July 14, 2013 at 10:20 am

    • Am honoured but I just have my words to use.. the others have been braving the mafia and running from pillar to post to get the needful done


      July 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

  4. I believe we need a full week debate to analyze every aspect of historic corruption made in this issue. Only A Commission of the level of Abottabad Commission could find out how such permissions by the Prime Ministers and Minsters were granted in the past, every time it was a one time waiver as was this time. While timber mafia who manage everything from getting permissions from the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs to cajoling forest officers and paying peanuts to the real owners need to be taken care of the Commission. Else it will be like when Ministers Faisal Saleh Hayat or Maj Tahir Iqbal or those in Zia era and now Mr Watoo will let things go to dogs


    July 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

    • when the Ministry has again been reduced to a Division, you can imagine how high on the priority such matters rest. It will have to be civil society activists like Khan Qureshi, Ali Ahymad jan, other community members, persons from the media and Akhtaer Hameed Khan trust etc who will have to act as the watchdogs. I do not have much hope from the government


      July 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

      • I agree with your concern and fully support the drive as i am aware of all the activities. I am proud of your efforts which need country wide campaign by the media so highly precious trees can be saved. You know every Government use different tactics and allow cutting of trees. Back in 2004/2005 a policy was formulated to enhance the penalty on illegal cutting which was excellent way forward but to my horror rates were reduced to nominal thereby allowing brutal killing of trees. We must not trust our ministers and their hawks who just do not have any concern with beauty and nature of these valleys which in fact is survival of generations to come.

        Ahsan Mahmood

        July 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      • Thank you… it has to be a joint effort by all those who realize the importance of this issue


        July 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm

  5. Let us ask the leading NGOs to hold a random house forum or stakeholder identification workshop as the first step only then one understand the magnitude of the problem


    July 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

    • Everyone knows the skateholders… the mafia itself is the biggest stakeholder that needs to be reined in


      July 14, 2013 at 10:56 am

    • wonder if a workshop arranged by leading NGOs is the solution. Ever since 1994, when a ban on timber cutting had been imposed, logs were rolling down south. There were were some articles written, but actions never followed. WAPDA was aware of the massive inflow of sediment into Tarbela Reservoir, but did they put any pressure for massive afforestation? No, they concentrated on engaging consultants to find solutions. And, consultants continued to re-write these reports since the last 18 years.
      As Afia so rightly mentions the disaster in waiting, and by now the foreign funded NGOs should be on the warpath. But, where are the action? Glossy reports galore give a gloomy picture, and as someone pointed out rightly, that the whole country can be covered in it km high. Itt is unfortunate that donor agencies still provide funding although aware, that nothing is being done..

      Helga Ahmad

      July 14, 2013 at 1:01 pm

  6. We are following this story and look forward for its logical conclusion Bravo keep it up same is the problem all over the world not just Pakistan


    July 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

  7. Another serious impact lusty Raja would on the storage Tarbela Dam and its powerhouse. In-fact Raja Perviaz Ashraf granted the license for ruthless cutting of forest in the most geological fragile area of in Diamer and the upper reaches falls within the watershed of Tarbela Dam. Ruthlessly cutting of conifer trees would further accelerate sedimentation in Tarbela Dam that have not only decreased the storage capacity of the reservoir but are also posing a serious threat to the powerhouse structures and machines.

    The live storage capacity of Tarbela Dam has been reduced by 30 per cent during the last 36 years due to sedimentation. From its original storage capacity of 9.68 million acre feet (MAF), the storage capacity reduced to 7 MAF in 2013.

    Arshad H Abbasi

    July 14, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    • Thianks for this insight Mr. Abbasi. You are absolutely right about the threat to Tarbela, as has also been pointed out by other writers. I just felt that an added mention needed to be made of the threat such deforestation posed to the absolute tail enders… the people in Sindh.


      July 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    • There is need to hold dialogues to place transparent systems. At one time Baad i Shumaal newspaper says that this is the timber that is rotting since 1992, while the approval of the ex PM is for the left over timber of 2008. Who is right and who is wrong ?
      Let there be a national dialogue first

      Asif Khan

      July 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm

  8. Timber mafia in Swat, building mafia in India and Nepal, hydropower mafia in Bhutan and China. Sometimes we need to wonder if we live around the Himalayas or in Sicily

    Joydeep Gupta

    July 15, 2013 at 9:23 am

    • Worse… the damage caused by the environmental is far lethal, and spread over a wider area


      July 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm

  9. There are still many women in the Parliament who can make a difference have someone contacted the likes of Nafisa Shah

    Ali Jaan

    July 24, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    • good idea though I would rather someone took it up with Marvi Memon… much more savvy in environmental issues… and part of the ruling party


      July 25, 2013 at 12:30 am

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