PESHAWAR, Nov 6: Taking advantage of the turbulent situation in Swat district, the timber mafia has accelerated its anti-forest activities, ruthlessly cutting trees in the valley and sharing the windfall with the militants.
The badly-hit forests belong to the Matta sub-division and Malam Jabba, Nek Pekhel, Kabal Tehsil and Marghazar Dara areas.
The forest department has left the forests at the mercy of the timber mafia and militants. Checkpoints of the department are no longer functional even in the areas where law and order situation is under control.
During a recent visit to the area, this writer noticed that timber smugglers have been playing a very active role in anti-government activities and generously funding militants and their patrons.
The financial support to the clerics, especially by those involved in the illegal sale and purchase of vehicles across the Malakand division, is no more a secret as the business is a lucrative one that has been continuing unchecked for the past many years.
Whenever the government tried in the past to impound these illegal vehicles or regularise them as per rules of the excise and taxation department of the government, the people involved in the business start raising slogans for ‘enforcement of Sharia’ and take up bamboos and arms to press for acceptance of their demands.
It has been observed that since 1994 when the ‘movement for the enforcement of Sharia’ was first launched, most of the leaders and the people on the forefront were those having bad reputation as they were famous for smuggling timber, selling illegal vehicles and other dubious activities.
The smuggling of timber is the most lucrative business in the area, offering jobs to hundreds of otherwise unskilled and illiterate people. That is the reason why a maximum number of people living in the hilly areas are involved in this business.
Though Jambel and Kokarai valleys are almost safe for the staff of the forest department, but smuggling of timber is continuing allegedly in connivance with officials concerned.
Forests of Malam Jabba used to be considered the most protected ones in the past mainly because of their inaccessibility, but now the smugglers have started felling trees in this area too because there is no check from the authorities concerned.
The Nekpekhel (Kabal Tehsil) area, which once used to be known for its thick forests, has been almost denuded by these smugglers.
Talking to Dawn, local people Sherin Khan, Nazar Gul and Abid said forests were being cut and timber logs smuggled to markets of Lower Dir through mules which were an effective means of transporting heavy goods in the area.
They said that Karodara and Nehagdara were two main routes being used for smuggling. Logs of timber are brought to different villages in Asbandr area of Adenzai Tehsil and then sent to other parts of the area.
People of the area say that during the past few months, they have seen a big increase in this illegal business on the main Karodara road, Akhagram and Khall area.
Most of the smugglers use the Swat River near Ramora Dara opposite Thana village in the Malakand Agency (a protected area). Thana has now become a big market of the smuggled wood and from there the timber is sent to down districts via the Mora Ghar Road.
Forest guards in many areas had abandoned their offices as they were unable to control the heavily-armed smugglers and militants, said the sources.
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