The withdrawal of the timber policy has received mixed reaction. While many welcomed the move, others have criticised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for reversing his predecessor’s decision.
Elected representatives from Gilgit and Diamer valley are on the forefront opposing the withdrawal and blasted Sharif’s government for ‘depriving people of their rights.’ The PM, who is also the chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) council, scrapped the timer policy on July 5.
The policy was initially put in place by former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in his final days of office. It allowed the transport and sale of four million cubic feet of legally and illegally chopped timber lying in Diamer valley.
“This is nothing short of economic murder of the people of Diamer,” said G-B Minister for Works Bashir Ahmad Khan, who is also a resident of the area. A senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Bashir was one of the most proponent advocates of the policy, which was initially approved by the G-B Cabinet in 2011.
He is not the only lawmaker from the valley to oppose suspending the policy. “The government does not have the right to overrun the wishes of the people,” said Rahmat Khaliq, a Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) legislator.
Backed by G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah, MPAs from Diamer are said to be planning a joint opposition against the federal government. G-B Assembly Deputy Speaker Jamil Ahmed urged the government to review its decision of suspending the timber policy. He said the right to owning timber in Diamer belongs to the people.
Environment experts and activists in Diamer, however, pointed out that influential people may use the policy as a cover to chop hundreds of new trees and put the forest base at stake.
Aftab Haider, advisor on forests in G-B, denies any such felling is taking place. “The timber policy was for the timber lying in the valley since a decade and not for fresh timber,” he said, asking the government to allow releasing the timber according to the wishes of the G-B government.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2013.