Governments at both federal and provincial levels in Pakistan have been actively implementing a range of measures to combat the pervasive issue of smog, which continues to afflict the populace. However, despite these efforts, many of the initiatives undertaken are observed to be more reactive than proactive, lacking a comprehensive, forward-thinking vision for a lasting solution. Additionally, several of these measures appear to be impractical, not aligning effectively with the broader economic and industrial development goals set by the state.
The conundrum lies in the perplexing tendency to seek complex remedies for a seemingly straightforward problem. The root of the issue, however, rests in a return to fundamental principles—a concept that emphasises incentivising afforestation and disincentivising deforestation as the cornerstone of maintaining a clean environment. This fundamental approach, instilled in us during our formative years in school, remains the most sustainable solution to this widely acknowledged environmental concern. Fortunately, the government of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) has emerged as a beacon of exemplary practices for others in Pakistan to emulate.
In a decisive move, the AJK government has taken proactive steps, invoking Section 144 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) to criminalise the use of chainsaws in forests. Moreover, they have instituted a comprehensive ban on the commercial sale of wood, including shed-offs, coupled with stringent regulations governing the utilisation of wood as fuel. Specific geometric parameters have been defined for the collection and consumption of such fuel, ensuring a controlled and sustainable approach to its usage. Augmenting these efforts, the administration has invested in strengthening forestry infrastructure by meticulously marking entire woodland areas, ensuring diligent recording of every log and trunk in dedicated logbooks. Furthermore, the AJK government has taken proactive measures to discourage the wood industry by identifying and protecting a specific class of trees crucial for environmental preservation. Reports suggest that in tandem with these proactive measures, the AJK government is planning to introduce new legislation aimed at cementing these reforms. This move is intended to create an environment conducive to large-scale industrial tree plantation, thereby linking it directly to the economic upliftment of the local population.
It is our earnest hope and prayer that other governments in Pakistan draw inspiration from the successful approach adopted by their counterparts in AJK. Embracing and implementing similar measures will undoubtedly contribute significantly to addressing the crux of the overarching environmental predicament, of which smog constitutes a critical component.