Due to its great natural beauty, including snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes, lush green meadows, and deep woods, the Swat Valley is a popular tourist destination.
Last year, about two million people visited the valley, making it Pakistan’s most popular tourist attraction. However, it has been in the headlines for the past three weeks as a result of significant wildfires that have devastated nearly 14,000 acres of forest.
Apart from the dry weather, some of the fires were deliberately ignited by people who sought to take advantage of a centuries-old law that granted them shared ownership of the forests with the government.
The Yousufzai dynasty, who conquered the Swat Valley in the 16th century, introduced the notion of shared property, or “Shamilat,” to Pakistan. This law allows local people to share forest ownership with the government.
They are allowed to take down trees and use meadows for cattle grazing within the terms of the law. They can only acquire firewood by cutting down branches or dead trees.
Pakistan had passed identical laws in 1969, but with minor changes.
A representative for the Forest Department, Latif-ur-Rahman, has noticed an increase in the number of incidents where fires were intentionally lit to clear more land for agricultural use.
Rivers, mountains, streams, and woodlands were all regarded communally held in the original Shamilat tradition, according to Mohammad Nafees, chairman of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Peshawar.
However, after Pakistan’s formal integration in 1969, the government made several changes, including as recognizing forest trees as state property and allowing locals to harvest forest lands and take tree branches for personal use.
He went on to say that another unwritten law is that if a farmer’s property borders a mountainous forest, he is legally allowed to clear the neighboring forest swath and incorporate it into his own piece of land.
Swat had a forest cover of 30% when Pakistan got independence in 1947, but that percentage has now decreased to fewer than 15%, according to him. Only the highest and most distant mountains have thick forest cover left.
The Shamilat legislation governs 70% of Swat’s forests, while the remaining 30% are either state-owned or privately owned.
According to the Forest Department’s most current statistics, over 210 wildfires have been identified in the districts of Swat, Shangla, and Buner, with 55 of them deliberately started by residents.