Pakistan: Timber mafia’s combat operations in Shangla district / devouring 600 sq. miles

Companion post of this same region but on the other side of the border in Afghanistan is here:

No journalist had the time then to report on this devastation, and  only one parliamentarian from Shangla district raised the issue in the Senate, blaming the timber mafia for the destruction of rich forest resources. In fact, perhaps to save his own neck, the JUI senator gave only part of the picture without mentioning the involvement of militants in this illegal business.

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Syed Irfan Ashraf is a Peshawar based journalist and University teacher

Towards mid-November 2007, the militants headed towards Shangla
district and a heavy battle followed at Belay Baba. Denizens of the
troubled town of Alpuri and its adjacent thickly wooded green valleys
fled to escape the heavy artillery shelling from the bordering Swat
district. Many, while ascending the five-kilometre dirt route from
Alpuri to Shangla Top, would stop at the sound of trees being cut in
the nearby mountains.

A gentle night breeze spread the scent of the newly felled pine trees across the area. Truckloads of ‘war booty’, looted from Alpuri Bazaar, would thread their way towards Shangla Top under the protection of the Taliban whose attention was not in the least diverted by the sound of the thick pine forests being felled. Officials who served and lived in the area believe that subversive elements gave their blood and sweat to the TNSM since its formation in 1988.

That is why militants mostly served as ‘cavalry’ for the powerful timber mafia in the districts of Swat and Dir, and they rode on the success of the militants, swooping on the verdant pine mountains spread over 600 square miles like vultures. A recent survey conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy reveals that a loss of over Rs8bn was incurred by the forest sectors of Swat alone during the last 16 months.

Being shrewd investors, the timber mafia is believed to have spent part of its dividends to sponsor militancy. Huge sums are involved in the business which has expanded to the hills bordering Afghanistan. Recalling his visit to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 1998, an NWFP parliamentarian said, ‘The then deputy governor of Kunar province, Abdullah Jan, complained that timber agents from Swat had ruined the thick forests in the bordering areas lying close to Pakistan’s Dir district.’

The Afghan governor said that the Taliban administration of Kunar province had arrested a few members of the mafia; however, they were released after they promised never to return. While analysts cite ‘ideology’ as the chief factor responsible for the rising militancy in the country, it is unfortunate that little attention is being paid to the nexus between militants and the black economy. Smugglers and businessmen engaged in dubious trade foster anarchy in the northwest of Pakistan to further their vested interests. They invest money and energy in the so-called process of Talibanisation — that is how they protect their illegal businesses at the expense of the state’s writ.

Besides the exploitation of thick pine forests, precious emerald mines and
archaeological artefacts have also been a huge source of revenue for the local black economy. As the media wrestled for news emerging from the recent Swat peace agreement, militants captured the emerald mines on the outskirts of the main town of Mingora and in the Shamozai area in Kabal tehsil. Subsequently, heavy excavations started in which over 200 labourers took part to extract precious stones, with the Taliban taking one-third of the total share. Other plunderers have also had a field day thronging to the mines (where finds are of excellent quality) one of which had earned the government about Rs90m through a
single auction in the past.

The militants have demanded the removal of security check posts along the main routes in North and South Waziristan. It is an open secret that a web of smugglers and criminals operates from the bordering areas with Afghanistan. Moreover, smugglers have flooded Punjab and Sindh with sophisticated vehicles on which duty hasn’t been paid. One ring leader from Bannu called Hukumat Khan still remembers the huge profit he used to earn, while paying Rs10,000 to a driver for ensuring that the smuggled vehicles got past a check post safely. Though Hukumat is no more active as the Taliban have replaced his ilk in the local power centres, he admits that the trade (tribesmen do not consider smuggling a crime) involved billions. All this points to the symbiotic tie between the pro-active ‘business’ mafia, whose greed knows no bounds when it comes to the vast natural resources of the troubled areas, and the militants for whom funds is an integral part of efforts to keep their ‘ideology’ alive. This makes it all the more necessary for those wielding power in government to devise a strategy that would isolate monetary benefits from militancy.

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Comments (2)

Muhammad HamzaJune 17th, 2009 at 5:31 am

Pakistan is our beloved country and we will do everything to protect it.See the link below for more information. Pakistan

shabbirJune 8th, 2012 at 10:58 am

east or west pakistan is best
east or south india is fuck
east or south in mother usa is fucker

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