MYSTERIOUS fires that erupted on mountains across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the last few weeks have left the beautiful face of evergreen North ugly and bruised. The flora and fauna of the affected areas have turned into ashes perhaps forever.

The reports coming from official sources and local residents say over 200 incidents of fire have occurred on the mountains of Shangla, Swat, Buner, Dir and Waziristan. Several reasons are being cited for the tragic incidents by the authorities concerned, but these wild fires remain shrouded in mystery, especially for those who have been living for decades in the vicinity.

The involvement of the timber mafia has also been alleged. Certain locals have been blamed for starting fires to settle tribal scores. The climate change phenomenon is also considered a reason as dried twigs and grass are believed to have caught fire owing to blowing winds over the hills. Finally, sheer negligence of the officials concerned has been cited as another factor that might have caused the chain of disaster.

None of the above reasons seems to satisfy the curiosity of the local people, particularly those whose lives had remained dependent since time immemorial on the green patches, the vintage trees and the wildlife in the area.

There goes an old maxim in Pashto which roughly translates to, ‘I do not care about the methods and the tools, my father has been murdered’, which in the local context implies, ‘who will take care of my survival … the enemies have done their job … what next?’

Every black spot on the mountains has some ‘unnamed culprit’ behind tall trees that once stood there, but now the entire area is littered with ashes, with smoke still seen on mountain peaks.

The destroyed mountains were once the habitat of a variety of rare birds and animals that were caught unawares by the raging fire in the dead of the night. Those who have survived may never return to their homes that today stand charred by the blaze.

It will perhaps take decades to recover from the losses of this wild fire. Steps like ordering an ‘enquiry’ and forming a ‘commission’ are nothing more than mere lip service as far as the locals are concerned. The loss is huge and almost irreversible. I hope the culprits behind these mysterious mountain fires will be apprehended one day, but will this happen?

Sher Alam Shinwari
Peshawar

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2022

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