“Giant piles of prime timber line the roadsides along the Kunar River valley.
The cut wood, worth tens of millions of dollars, has been slowly rotting away since 2006, when President Hamid Karzai banned logging and lumber sales in Afghanistan.
The decree was designed to preserve the nation’s dwindling forests. But, American military commanders and civilian officials say, this well-intentioned prohibition has led to disastrous consequences: giving a powerful boost to the Taliban-led insurgency and helping turn Kunar into one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous provinces.
…Wood-cutting is a centuries-old traditional occupation of many local clans in this mountainous part of eastern Afghanistan, home to some of the country’s largest forests. Logging has continued unabated here since Kabul imposed the ban. But now the industry is largely supervised by the Taliban. They skim off the profits and use the smuggling networks established to haul Kunar’s trees into neighboring Pakistan to transport weapons and men, American officers say. As a result, logging clans are now part and parcel of the insurgency.
…In Kunar, the local Deodar cedar is a crucial economic resource. A particularly hard, aromatic wood prized by furniture makers, it is highly valued in the Persian Gulf. A two-yard log that sells for $10 in Kunar fetches as much as $150 in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, and $300 in Dubai or Qatar.
The 8 million cubic feet of logs piled up since 2006 at Kunar’s roadsides were proclaimed government property when the timber ban took effect. Wrangling among government agencies, however, means the stockpileâ€”which appears to be mysteriously diminishingâ€”has yet to be auctioned.
…There is no doubt that Afghanistan is losing its forests at a swift pace. Satellite imagery shows that forest cover has shrunk by about 50% since 1978. Deforestation, in turn, leads to soil erosion, flooding, and air pollutionâ€”which is why the Afghan government, with the support of international environmental groups, imposed the 2006 prohibition…."
â€”Habib Zahori in Kabul contributed to this article.
2010-04-12 05:40:37 UTC