Timber mafia and the cost of deforestation

Khan Mohammad Qureshi, an environmental activist from Gilgit-Baltistan, has recalled his ordeal he went through for standing up against the timber mafia.

“It was in 2013 when I noticed that timber mafia was eradicating the forest cover from our area and the authorities concerned were least bothered over the issue. I started the campaign to put up some resistance against ruthless chopping of trees but I could attract a handful of people only, as most of them were getting shares from those responsible for deforestation in the area,” Qureshi said during a press conference at the National Press Club, Islamabad.

He went on to say: “Initially, we submitted an application with the GB Council but the council gave us no response. We turned to the Supreme Court but we were told that the GB was a controversial territory and the court could not hold proceedings.”

He added, “My father and brother were killed for raising voice against the timber mafia. But the killer(s) were acquitted. It was the worst day of my life.”

He said that the timber mafia had felled down thousands of trees in the area in connivance with the Forest Department after the ban was lifted in the tenure of former premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. He added that people had started evacuating the area due to rising threat of land sliding and floods.

He said that cutting of pine nut trees was causing a loss of around Rs 15 billion loss to the national excheuquer.

“Timber mafia is paying Rs 40 per foot to the local people and selling them at Rs 6,000 per foot in the market.

It should be mentioned here that former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the inauguration of Karakoram Highway had approved a six-year timber policy for legal harvesting of trees in Diamer district of the GB. “It was after then the mafia entered the area for harvesting of trees.”

According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), cracks have appeared in the Nagar mountainous area due to land sliding, which can pose a serious threat to the people living in the area.

According to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report, Pakistan lost 33.2 percent of its forests cover between 1990 and 2010, mostly in the northern belt of the country.

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.