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Saving Pakistan's environment, a tree at a time

As loggers continue to clear forests, the government has developed an obsession with tree-planting campaigns.

The ban made logging illegal but did not stop it. Instead, a timber mafia of locals, corrupt politicians and police officers developed, particularly in the northwestern areas where the forest cover is denser and law enforcement — especially in more recent years — has been more lax.

While loggers have been busy cutting down trees, the government has developed an obsession with tree plantation campaigns.

Each spring, city officials across Pakistan pose for local newspaper photographers with a sapling in their hand. Even foreign leaders have been asked to lend a hand, with George Bush Sr., China’s Hu Jintao or more recently Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai among more than 100 foreign dignitaries who have planted a tree on a hill above Islamabad.

Last year, Pakistan took tree planting to Guinness World Record level when more than half a million trees were planted during one day in a mangrove southeast of Karachi. That archrival India had been the record holder surely provided some extra motivation.

The government’s latest efforts look more promising, Shahbaz said, in part because the new forest policy is slated to lift the logging ban and limit timber harvesting to well stocked forests.

Ejaz Ahmad, deputy director general of the WWF-Pakistan, is also reasonably optimistic. He said the forest program was developed in consultation with all stakeholders, from the minister to communities and NGOs, and was endorsed by all provinces, giving it “better chances” of success.

Yet Ahmad acknowledged that there was no guarantee the new program would not fail as others have, but he said the dire state of Pakistan’s forests left no choice.

“Corruption and these things are there,” he said, “but it should not mean that we should not try.”