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!