The situation would have been almost comical had it not been tragic. As the PTI government announced a plan to plant over a billion new trees across the country, reportedly officials of the forest department in Swat were busy lopping down trees which had stood in the mountainous valley for decades. According to reports, the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has taken action and ordered the suspension of the district forest officer. There have also been protests in Saidu Sharif over the destruction of trees, which local people point out help keep the environment clean and also offer shade to residents of the area. They also say that in overpopulated cities it is hard to grow saplings and even if these survive it will be many decades before they reach the height and majesty of the trees so ruthlessly cut down. Younger members of the PTI have also protested the massive felling operation presumably carried out by the timber mafia which has operated in Swat and other areas for years.
The situation, however, also highlights how difficult governance can be in a country where rule of law and general order has been so badly disrupted. The government’s intentions in ordering the planting of new trees were obviously good. But to enforce these measures and defeat corrupt elements who have made enormous profits from various kinds of wrongdoings specific policies is something that will need to be worked out. The forest department has been accused previously as well of aiding and abetting these involved in the usually profitable logging business. Some of these people are powerful politicians themselves. It is a welcome sign that local people fervently protested the action and that the KP chief minister stepped in quickly. It is now necessary for the new ruling party to ensure that its efforts to put in place steps that can benefit people are not thwarted by those who have no regard for authority. At the same time the concerns of people about the survival of newly planted saplings must also be addressed so that tree cover can be increased by raising awareness about protecting these plants, preventing animals from feeding on them and maximising the number planted. Such measures will only succeed if the kind of mass destruction of trees seen in Swat can be prevented in the future.