Saturday, 12 October 2013

Our Green Gold exploited by Pakistan, Dr Shabir Choudhry

Our Green Gold exploited by Pakistan
Dr Shabir Choudhry         13 October 2013

Pakistani officials and Pakistani people claim that they feed people of Azad Kashmir; and that without their help people of Azad Kashmir cannot survive. This is not true. We were self- sufficient in food before the State of Jammu and Kashmir was forcibly divided in 1947/8; and the only thing we imported was salt from Punjab. In return we exported many things to Punjab of that time.

The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir is endowed with enormous natural resources; and Allah Almighty has been very kind to Azad Kashmir as well. Forests in Azad Kashmir which enhance the beauty of the region with enormous other benefits spread over area of 1.4 million Acres; whereas, total area of Azad Kashmir is 32, 85760 Acres. This means about 42% of the Azad Kashmir territory was covered by forests. However, due to excessive deforestation and greed of the officials, and Timber Mafia only 14% of that is remaining now.

The Timber Mafia which is supported by some corrupt people from Azad Kashmir as well, on average cut 155,000 t0 180,000 trees every year. These trees are generally Deodar, Kail and Fir. All these trees are in abundance in the Neelam Valley. Because of this deforestation, the region is facing many environmental problems; not to mention landslides, increased floods and poor harvests.

Safi Allah Asim, Secretary General, Committee for Protection of Forests, in his article ‘Azad Kashmir Ka Sabaz Sona, iss ke tabahi ka kon zimadar hai’ meaning: ‘Green Gold of Azad Kashmir - who is responsible for its Destruction’ published in June 2012, wrote: That apart from the damage done by the Timber Mafia, nomad people from Pakistan (goat-sheep herders) bring lakhs of sheep and goats to Azad Kashmir, especially in the Neelam Valley during Summer; and they cause enormous damage to very valuable plants and trees. 1

Poor farmers of Azad Kashmir allow the Timber Mafia to cut trees for the sum of 180 to 350 depending on the size of the tree. When these trees are exported to Islamabad, Gujranwala, Lahore and Karachi, it is sold like a gold dust. For example the whole Deodar tree could be sold in Lahore for more than 3 million Pakistani Rupees. 2 The price for the Deodar tree is priced at 1.8 million Pakistani Rupees in Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Kashmir.  

The Deodar tree survives more than 100 years; and it takes about 10 years for it to achieve its maximum growth, which is around 200 feet in height. One Deodar tree provides 1000 cubic feet; and retail price of one foot in Lahore is Rs 3600. 3 If we multiply that with 1000, the price for one Deodar tree is 3.6 million or 36 Lakh Rupees. 4

Deodar trees are also used to collect a natural medication which comes in a liquid form, and is called ‘Lodh’ in local language. It is very effective for killing certain types of germs and insects, especially to kill household germs, insects, and bed bugs etcetera. Similarly, Kael tree also provides a natural liquid which is very useful for treating wounds and problems associated with feet, for example cracked feet. In a Pakistani district Hazara, this liquid is extracted on commercial bases and sold.

Similarly the whole Fir tree is sold for millions of Rupees in Pakistan, and the whole Kael tree could be sold for 1.7 million Rupees. The majority of these trees are cut from Keran Sector, Sharda and Athmaqaam. They are transported in cities in Punjab and Sindh, where they are produced for creating expensive wooden furniture which is then transported to Holland, Belgium and Denmark.

One can imagine how lucrative this business is. People of Punjab and Sindh, and for that matter, government officials do not encourage establishment of any industry in Azad Kashmir that people can manufacture furniture here and strengthen their economy. They purchase raw trees at peanut price and make a fortune out of this.

New trend is that Pakistani businessmen are purchasing vast areas of land in Azad Kashmir, even though legally they cannot purchase any land in any part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Total population of the Neelam valley is around three Lakh. It must be pointed out that due to lack of electricity in the Neelam Valley, people use wood for cooking and for heating houses during very harsh winter. It is estimated that around 60,000 trees are cut annually by the local people for this purpose; and according to conservative estimate it is about 51 billion and 84 Cror Rupees.5

The Neelam Valley has abundance water resources. There are many small tributaries of the Neelam River, which could be used to generate electricity and people won’t have to cut trees to heat houses in the winter. This will save money, save trees and also help the environment, as leaves of Deodar tree are especially good at absorbing carbon dioxide.  

Apart from exploitation of our trees, every year 3 billion Rupees worth of flowers are also taken from Azad Kashmir, which are transported to Pakistan and then abroad. It is important to remember that the revenue goes to the provincial governments or in pockets of the businessmen of Punjab and Sindh.

Furthermore, Azad Kashmir is famous for different valuable plants and herbs. Out of Pakistan’s most economically useful plants, 70 percent are transported from Azad Kashmir, especially from the Neelum Valley. Most of these plants are extracted in wild form and transported to Punjab and Sindh where they are used for herbal teas, pills and medicine. All these items are then exported to various countries making huge profits; and this also generates very valuable foreign exchange for Pakistan

Just see how much they make and exploit us, these corporations extract 1 billion Rupees of medicinal plants each year from Azad Kashmir; not to mention the herbs that are used for other purposes like herbal tea and pills etc.

I am not a Mathematician, but anyone with common sense can work out how much they are making from Azad Kashmir if we only work out the price for trees cut from Azad Kashmir. For example, instead of saying 180,000 trees, we say they cut 160,000 trees per year; and if average price is 3 million Rupees per tree, then it works out to be:
3,000,000 x 160,000= 480, 000,000,000     480 Arab Rs.

This income is from the trees only. What if we set up furniture and medicine manufacturing industries in Azad Kashmir then you can see how much income we can generate by exporting furniture and medicine to Pakistan and other countries.

I suppose the situation is similar on the other side of the Line Of Control as well, and our resources are systematically exploited. No wonder they want to keep us divided, oppressed and colonised.

1.    Sada e Neelam, May - June 2012
2.    Sada e Neelam, May - July 2013
4.    Sada e Neelam, May - July 2013
5.    ibid
Writer is a political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs 

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