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Pistachios for Guns.

Pistachio forests in Herat and Badghis are arming the government's opponents including the Taleban.

Security forces, spread thin on the ground, have not been able to hold on to the nearly 30,000 hectares of pistachio in Badghis and 13,000 hectares in Herat.

The loss of forests to the Taleban has affected pistachio production. Abdul Nasser, a trader with a shop in Karwansarai Darakht Toot for more than 20 years, says the seeds have to be collected on time to yield a rich harvest.

Hafizullah Binesh, who heads the government's agriculture department in Badghis, says last year the Taleban ordered the locals to harvest pistachio before it had ripened and sell to smugglers. The money went to the "pockets of armed opponents", he says. The annual yield was an estimated 35,000 tonnes.

Binesh says security forces were not assigned to patrol pistachio in districts like Maqur, Jowend, Qades, Abkamari and Murghab in Badghis.

Bahaudin Qadesi, a representative in the Badghis provincial council, acknowledges Afghanistan's famous pistachio forests are under threat. Uprooting of trees and felling are twin problems in Herat and Badghis. The Taleban and other powerful interests, who have divided the forests among themselves, are also deliberately denuding the area to turn it into residential plots.

Security forces have promised to clear the area of Taleban. But Abdul Rawoof Taj, police chief in Badghis calls it the "duty of people" to protect pistachio.

Killid tried repeatedly to interview Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, the so-called Taleban spokesperson. Nesar Ahmad Amini, head of the government's natural resources department of Herat, says 30 percent of pistachio forests in Keshk Kohna, Rabat e Sangi and Golran have been destroyed; roughly 10 percent is in government hands and the rest under the control of the Taleban. The province's annual yield has reduced by half the earlier 3,000 tonnes.

"Local police, national police and border police have a responsibility to safeguard the pistachio trees in Herat province but due to wide presence of Taleban, the government has lost control of forests," says Amini.

Criminal loss

Pistachio forests are spread all the way from Badakhshan to Herat, a swathe of roughly 450,000 hectares. But in reality only half these forests remain, says Aman Amanyar, director-general of forests in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL). The widening conflict has claimed many trees.

Traditionally, people who reside around pistachio forests have the right to the produce. Under the law, a twelfth of the yields belong to the government. But this is not the case in areas controlled by the Taleban.

Abdul Rawoof Ahmadi, spokesperson for the Herat Police, says 10 people were arrested and punished last year for cutting pistachio trees. An equal number of Taleban were reported injured or killed in counter operations by security forces. Felling has been reported from Keshk Kohna. Mohammad Juma Adeel, chief of 705 zone Border Police in the west, admits he does not have enough men to police pistachio forests. It would require a force of 10,000, he estimates.

The Ministry of Interior Affairs confirms the presence of Taleban in the forests of Badghis and Herat. Spokesperson Sidiq Sidiqi insists protection is the responsibility of both locals and security forces. But Jailani Farhad, spokesperson for the Herat governor, says security forces have to police the forests.

The authorities also hint at a conspiracy hatched by Afghanistan's neighbours. Amini from the Herat government says locals felled many trees under the mistaken notion that the root could be sold at very high prices. "Unfortunately these were rumours," he says. "This was a big plot," says Sidiqi.

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Publication:Killid Weekly
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:May 23, 2016
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