For a group more usually associated with insurgency and war, the Taliban have taken a quite bizarre step and issued a “special statement” in the name of its leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, to call on Afghans to plant more trees.
“Tree plantation plays an important role in environmental protection, economic development and beautification of Earth,” the public statement – which was distributed in four languages, including English – reports the leader as directing. It calls on Afghan citizens and fighters alike to “plant one or several fruit or non-fruit trees for the… benefit of almighty Allah’s creations,” a message in stark contrast to the usual statements that discuss fighting against the Afghan government and NATO-backed forces.
Despite its reputation as a dry and parched nation, Afghanistan is a massively varied country. From snow-capped mountains, home to snow leopards in the east, to the pistachio woodlands in the north and the arid deserts to the south, there is a lot going on in the landlocked country. But after decades of fighting and war, the environment has paid a heavy price, not least the forests which have steadily been disappearing.
Between 1990 and 2005 it is thought that around a third of the country’s forests have been logged, while in some provinces, such as Nangarhar and Kunar, this has risen to at least a half. “Almost no trees could be detected in Badghis and Takhar provinces in 2002 by satellite instruments, compared with 55 percent and 37 percent land cover respectively in 1977,” a 2003 report found. The main driver behind this intense deforestation is for firewood used by citizens for cooking, as well as illegal timber sales.
The spokesman for the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was not particularly receptive to the Taliban’s foray into environmentalism, dismissing it as an attempt to “deceive public opinion” from what the group has really been doing. “Since the establishment of the Taliban movement the only things that these people have in their minds are fighting, crimes and destruction,” said Shah Hussain Murtazawi. “How is it possible for the Taliban to think about planting trees or protecting the environment in the country?”
Akhundzada has been the leader of the Taliban since May 2016, after the previous leader was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan. Analysts think that this latest statement may be an attempt to try and show the citizens what it would be like if the Taliban took power, in a similar vein to how they have been building roads and infrastructure.