Afghan Taliban leader urges reforestation

A special message carried on Taliban news outlets from new leader Hibatullah Akhundzada urges Afghan's to plant more trees. Trees in Afghanistan are cut down for fuel and illegal timber sales creating a severe deforestation problem.

In his statement Akhundzada asked civilians and fighters to "plant one or several fruit or non-fruit trees for the beautification of Earth and the benefit of almighty Allah's creations". Such a statement on environmental issues from the Taliban is quite rare. Usually statements deal with military successes or criticism of the Afghan government and its NATO supporters.
The Jihad website Afghan Taliban Voice quotes the message as saying: "Tree plantation plays an important role in environmental protection, economic development and beautification of earth. Planting trees and agriculture are considered actions which hold both worldly good and benefit as well as immense rewards in the hereafter." Many Afghans especially in rural areas heat their homes and cook using wood-burning stoves. The statement was issued in four languages including English.
The message also tried to represent the tree-planting as part of Islam: "Tree planting plays an important role in environmental protection, economic development and the beautification of the earth. Allah Almighty has interconnected the lives of human beings with plants. Plants live off soil while humans and animals live off plants. If the plants and trees are eradicated, life itself would be put in peril, Allah Almighty says."
Shah Murtazawi a spokesperson for Afghan president Ashraf Gani, dismissed the statement as an attempt to deceive Afghan public opinion and distract attention from their crimes and destruction. Murtazawi said: "Since the establishment of the Taliban movement the only things that these people have in their minds are fighting, crimes and destruction. How is it possible for the Taliban to think about planting trees or protecting the environment in the country?" The Taliban is more associated with opium poppy production than reforestation. It taxes the production of opium in areas under its control. The Taliban has been offered a role in government if they end their insurgency. However, the Taliban have demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces as a condition of making peace. Wahid Muhda, a political analyst in Kabul said that announcements such as this and others where the Taliban claim to be building roads and bridges may be part of a campaign to show that they display enlightened leadership in areas they control.
The Taliban leader Akhundzada a religious scholar and cleric from Kandahar is believed to be in hiding since he became leader in May 2016 after the previous leader was killed in a US drone strike. The statement also noted that the Taliban were still "actively engaged in a struggle against foreign invaders and their hirelings" , that is against the Kabul government and NATO supporters. It is estimated that the Taliban now control up to 40 percent of Afghanistan.


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