Deforestation must not go wild

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By Fakhruddin Akhunzada Forest in Chitral has always been in the news not for bad things somehow but a range of issues. It’s the forest which makes the district a unique one among KP area for holding endangered beings including the symbolic Markhor. The benefit of forest is not confined to just its vast captivity but has a long history to feed some big mouths in the valley. The forests within Chitral have also been a huge reason for clash of interest of some influential people. Common men played only a role of silent spectator or haplessness on the tug of war being played among perpetrators for a long time but when they began to sense the issue they came to know that the parameters have changed and the intellect behind the business has got sophistication. Now the common man became merely tool in this war and being used mercilessly for the interest of those who never think of their benefit. There are two types of benefits one can get from the forests in Chitral. The first type is the one which comes out of the contracts given out for cutting the wood and its transportation. Obviously, the job is beyond the common man. The second one is arch royalty, associated with the forest which does not need to be elaborated that who gets the wealth. Briefly, in any case the common man, who even cannot get a legal permit for his house, always walks out with unfilled hopes. Talking about a quarrel in lower Chitral, we find two indigenous ethnic groups, showing two different attitudes apparently as they claim about their indigenous resources. The Dameli group, the protectionist, and the Kalasha demanding repeal of the ban on cutting of timber in their valley. The Dameli group, living in the southern side, is holding protest and press conferences in the provincial capital, Peshawar, against the deforestation justifying their move that excessive cutting of timber forest causing heavy loss to their community. Interestingly, this group shows a blatant division in its own rank as the young folks of the community seem to have lost their faith in their leadership. They have also taken the issue to court accusing their elders who lead the campaign against deforestation. While the Kalasha fraternity has been active within Chitral saying that forest cutting was the only source of income to their community and restriction was tantamount to kill their golden hen. The fascinating part of their movement is the same which is not new. These people are led by the leaders who don’t belong to their tribe. Before forecasting about the action supposedly taken by the provincial government in response to these varying movements one cannot deny the importance of forests for the people in southern Chitral. According to concerned people during the last four decades, the huge amounts of trees were cut down and even young trees became object. In reward locals were handed with meagre benefit and flocks were rolled towards their original destination. Mafias arose in a mushroom growth to convert the green hills into dry mountains within a short span of time. They developed various ways to smuggle timber woods from Chitral to the other part of the county. Nowadays river is used to transport the wood from Chitral to Afghanistan. Like the typical subjects Chitrali people never owned their resources thanks to their own unawareness or ruthless cleverness of their leadership which paved the way for vested interests to play their dirty role resulting huge loss to their future generation. Looking at the points being made by the group favouring deforestation that the out-put will eradicate poverty in Kalasha, one wonders that how could an entire community become so ignorant and negligent in the hands of people who are just posing to be their friends. Is the Kalasha tribe poorer than Dameli? Not at all. Damel is one of the neglected areas of Chitral lacking basic needs for life and totally relying on livestock for livelihood. Dameli youth never thinks of selling their last wealth and invariably looks out to down country for jobs, excelling in hotel management and others. At the other hands Kalash valleys are of the most income generating areas in Chitral receiving thousands of tourists every year together with NGOs pouring funds for the betterment of life in the scenic mountainous habitats. Frequent visits of tourists comprising local, national and international travellers, the area has turned into costliest market of the district where each and every item is sold benefiting local people. Precisely speaking about the contrast of both the areas that one can sell his mediocre sized goat for Rs. 10,000/- in Kalash area while the same animal will earn you merely Rs. 1000/- in Damel. But where there is devastation there must be a beacon of hope. To ignite this optimism the Kalash youth has been cognizant of the fact and poised to protect their culture, language, tradition and religion, and understands the importance of forests for their future as this is the community which gives most significance to forests in their religion. They know that their culture will be nothing sans Jungle. The future belongs to the winners. There is no indifference on saving the forest in Damel, and in the event the Kalasha young blood over powers their ignorant elders, a brightened future is sure. Together they, for the first time in their history, will defeat the all-time-winner tribe of mafia, leadership or whatever you name it. The writer is ethnographer and author, and can be reached at: cfakhruddin@gmail.com]]>

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