No one was silly enough to think that the death of Osama Bin Ladenwould mean the end of the Taliban, but it seems that recent strikes against their forces have hit their finances hard. Previously, the Taliban relied on weapon and opium sales to fund their operations, but as the UN, NATO and other allied forces clamp down on these businesses, they have been forced to find other sources of income. Unfortunately, the new source seems to be Pakistan’s luscious forests.
According to The Guardian, militants have decimated regions of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province for timber revenues. As a result, the once beautiful forests are now nothing but acres of tree stumps.
“Nearly all the forested areas have been mercilessly stripped of trees but Swat (a region of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province) in particular has borne the brunt of the Taliban’s atrocities over the last two years,” said Jamshaid Ali Khan, secretary of the Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad (SAFI).
In 1997, SAFI was founded to conserve, manage and develop Pakistan’s forest. It has also been tasked with providing income for local workers, reducing air pollution and minimizing soil erosion. However, over the past two years their operations have been hampered by flooding. and as a result the Taliban have taken up a semi-permanent residency.
To fund their operations, the Taliban have been felling trees in thousands and selling the timber on the black market at ‘throwaway prices’. What’s worse is that their ham-fisted methods have left a permanent scar on Pakistan’s landscape.
“A tree takes 100 years to mature before it can be cut for construction wood. The government cuts the trees after evaluation and planting sapling as substitutes,” Jamshaid said. “The majority of trees felled by the Taliban have not yet reached their full state of maturity.”
He also added that the Taliban have also been engaged in kidnapping for ransom, growing poppy crops and harboring criminals as income-generating schemes. They have also been illegally mining and selling precious stones. However, it is timber where they currently feel the most profit is.
The numbers themselves are shocking. According to forestry officials, “It is largely believed that the Taliban have destroyed 80 percent of those forests.” Local people have also suffered as timber was traditionally a source of income. It is estimated that they (and as a result, the government) have suffered losses of up to 350 million dollars.
While programs to plant more trees are underway, Jamshaid warns that not enough is being done to make it sustainable — especially with militants felling approximately 50,000 trees.
+ Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad
Images: Farooq (Extremely busy ) and The U.S. Army