Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan had declared war against the timber mafia in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, promising to ensure the provision of a hazard-free environment for the people of the province and country.
Speaking at a press conference at Hazara University in February last year, Khan had said: “Today, I declare war against the timber mafia and warn politicians and officials to stop supporting timber smugglers as we can sacrifice our government for this cause but would never allow anyone to support timber mafias.”
“The timber smugglers,” he said, “had illegally cut trees worth Rs. 100 billion from forests over the past decade.”
“Our government is taking concrete steps and will introduce legislation to remove hurdles involved in ending timber smuggling in the province,” he claimed.
He also added that his government had put a firm hand on the timber mafia, who had incurred huge losses to the national exchequer.
Separately, while addressing the event held to commemorate the Pakistan Forest Institute in Abbottabad, Khan had said that the timber mafia in the country is far more harmful than offshore companies for the development of Pakistan.
Truth Tracker contacted Syed Muhammad Ishtiaq, advisor to KP chief minister for environment, who could not be reached for comment on the subject despite repeated attempts.
However, Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani, adviser to KP chief minister on information and higher education, told Truth Tracker, “No doubt, we have introduced proper legislation and initiated a ban on forest cutting and timber smuggling.”
“Cutting down forests is totally prohibited in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province,” he remarked.
Arif Yousuf, another PTI stalwart and special assistant to the chief minister on law, commented: “The PTI government has already held three cabinet meetings on forest issues, which were attended by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and officials from the forest department.”
“We have a vigilant team to control and check timber smuggling at every level,” he noted.
During these meetings, it was unequivocally decided to award severe punishment and levy heavy fines on those involved in the illegal forest cutting or timber business.
“I am optimistic that timber smuggling has considerably reduced since the PTI came into power here,” he observed.
Muhammad Ali Shah Bacha, a lawmaker from Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), said that the cutting of forests is raging unabated in the jungles of Dir and Malakand.
“However, timber smuggling has reduced to a certain extent,” he noted. “The chopping of trees has destroyed forests and the timber mafia is uncontrollable,” he added.
“Tell me of a single promise that they (PTI) have honored?” he questioned. He said that the PTI has a merit policy for the common people only, since the provincial government has no merit for PTI workers and lawmakers.
A lawmaker from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Sardar Aurangzeb claims that all the promises made by the provincial government have either been broken or compromised.
“The PTI decides first and thinks later. Simply, they are unable to implement their decisions,” Aurangzeb noted.
“Entire sectors of the province,” he said, “are in shambles; such as forest, education and health.” “With the exception of Imran Khan’s own hospital, the PTI has not built a single hospital in the province,” he added.
“The PTI,” he recalled, “talked about introducing an equal and uniform education system in KP, but today the province is experiencing a difference in school systems, which is ample proof of their broken promises.”
“Whenever problems erupt in the center or in Karachi (Sindh),” he said, “the PTI government brings them to KP, which is a bad precedent.”
Mumtaz Malik, a Peshawar based environmentalist, told Truth Tracker that the forest related law was framed back in 2003, but there had been no further amendments.
“Management plans have to be revised if you want to reduce timber cutting and I think that so far, no plan has been revised,” he observed.
Aside from that, they (the PTI) have issued administrative orders to reserve forests in order to put a stop to harvesting them.
Regarding the sapling plantation, he said that the PTI’s Billion Trees Tsunami campaign has witnessed ‘record breaking plantation of new saplings.’
Now the success of plants planted under the Billion Trees Tsunami campaign totally depends on time. “Let’s see how much time those saplings take to become mature,” he added.
“If the plantation drive continues for at least another five years, then it is expected to be a huge success,” he noted.
“It is pertinent to mention here that the department (forest) has been shaken up amidst huge plantations but the people whom the PTI considered to have created problems in plantation have been brought on board,” he added.
“Tree chopping and timber smuggling can be controlled through a simple administrative order,” he observed.
“I was one of the people who proposed a paradigm shift in forest management that you (PTI) need in order to focus on better protection of old trees instead of planting new trees,” Mumtaz recalled.
“Now,” he said, “the PTI is involving communities to protect the old trees and plant new saplings elsewhere in the province.” “I think the tree plantation will have its impact, but in the long run,” he added.
He said that tree plantation is a long drawn process and the government should continue to protect trees for a long time, which would lead to a far-reaching, positive impact on the environment.
In light of the comments and views by the ruling, opposition lawmakers, advisors to chief minister on information and higher education, law and independent analyst, Truth Tracker rules that the PTI’s promise to control forest cutting and timber smuggling is underway.