KOHAT, June 27: The international timber mafia has once again become active and smuggling millions of cubic square feet of deadar and pine wood from Afghanistan with the connivance of the forest and customs department officials, Dawn investigations have revealed.
The forest department had fixed a quota for the Kurram and Orakzai Agencies at 35 and 25 permits per month respectively but hardly two to three trucks load transported wood legally by paying the custom and excise duty causing huge losses to the government exchequer.
The timber mafia (Afghans, Pakistani tribesmen and exporters) instead of bringing wood on permits to the market by paying the taxes used unfrequented routes of Pakistan-Afghan border between Kurram Agency and Paktia and Paktika, Waziristan Agency and Khost and earned huge profits.
From Paktia deodar was brought on camels and tractors to Kurram Agency from where it was transported to the Orakzai Agency near the settled area. The wood was dumped in big godowns in the Ublan area astride the border between the settled area of Kohat and the tribal territory. From there the smugglers after crossing at least five check posts bring the wood in tractors to Kohat timber market during the night.
First they cross the levy check point inside the tribal area followed by the forest check post, then customs and excise, CIA and two police stations of Cantt and City.
The ever spreading stockpiles of wood in hundreds of godowns in Kohat and the tribal territory were enough evidence of a booming timber business that had its roots across the border in Afghanistan. The wood mainly comprised cedrus deodara, pinus gerardiana and pinus wallchiana.
About 40 godowns existed in the city’s timber market and on the Hangu road alone which remained full with deodar wood round the year.
The normal rate for the levy and forest check posts had been fixed at Rs15000 per tractor load of wood (600 cft). The customs and police got between Rs2,000 to Rs5.000.
A source in the forest department said that the main reason behind the illegal trade was the heavy taxes imposed on importing wood. A truck load of deodar could cost Rs80,000 in duty that was why the timber merchants preferred to pay Rs30,000 as bribe and smuggled the wood without using the permits.
He said that although the permits were issued for the Orakzai and Kurram Agencies but not a single truck came from these areas and all the wood was brought from Afghanistan where the warlords were ruthlessly cutting the forests.
According to Afghan environmentalist, Mohammad Kabir, a resident of Faqir Baba in the Paktia province Taliban had effectively controlled the smuggling of Afghan wood to Pakistan. To discourage the illegal trade the Taliban militia guarding the border after arresting the smugglers killed their camels. But after the fall of the Taliban the business had again resumed. Drugs, non-custom paid vehicles and arms and ammunition were other items which had started coming into the country despite the presence of a large number of army troops on the border.
About 30 years ago, the Afghan government imposed a ban on cutting of trees by the tribal leaders as well as dealers. But then Afghanistan was plunged into a long-drawn war and rules were soon forgotten, he informed.
A report released by the Save the Environment Afghanistan last year estimated the total loss of forests in Afghanistan to be already around four million hectares.
The last time estimates were made on Afghanistan’s forest cover was in 1989, when it was believed to be around 2.6 per cent of the land area. Experts estimate that Afghanistan loses at least 20,000 hectares each year.
Environmentalists now say that Afghans much to their surprise would soon find that for rehabilitation and reconstruction they would have to import timber because their land has been criminally robbed off natural resources like forests.