Pakistan lodges formal complaint to UN over forest damage by Indian air strike

A man takes a photo with his mobile as he stands amidst damaged trees in Jaba village, Balakot, Pakistan February 28, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Pakistan lodges formal complaint to UN over forest damage by Indian air strike

  • The air strike in the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve had damaged a forest ecosystem which “could take up to a century to recover”

NAIROBI: Pakistan has lodged an official complaint with the United Nations over damage caused to a protected forest reserve during an air strike by India last month, Pakistan’s climate change minister Malik Amin Aslam Khan said on Monday.
The air strike in the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve had damaged a forest ecosystem which “could take up to a century to recover,” said Khan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser for climate change.
Khan said he handed over a dossier detailing the damage at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, calling on the global body to condemn India and seek compensation.
“We think what happened was a strike on nature — it was a strike on the Massar Jabba Forest Reserve which is a protected ecosystem and a globally important carbon sink,” Khan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
“We are speaking for the voiceless trees of the Massar Jabba forest reserve which became a target of this operation.”
India and Pakistan are amidst their biggest stand-off in years, with the United States and other global powers mediating to de-escalate tensions between arch-foes who have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Indian warplanes on Feb. 26 bombed the hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot, about 40 km (25 miles) from India’s border in the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
India said it destroyed a militant training camp, adding Pakistan’s accusation of environmental damage was “misguided.”
“It is unfortunate that the Pakistan delegation has misused this forum and wasted the time on matters not relevant,” Rahul Chhabra, Permanent Representative to UN Environment told the world’s environment ministers at the UNEA last week.
“The air strike by India in Balakot in Pakistan was a precision and accurate strike directed at terrorists located in a terrorist training camp and the strike was not aimed at any environmental damage.”
Pakistan denies there were any such camps in the area.
The Jabba Massar Reserve Forest is located in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and was established as a protected area in 2015 as part of the “Billion Trees Afforestation Project” which promotes forest regeneration.
A report by Pakistan after the air strike found damage to an area of 1.2 acres which included 19 pine trees valued at 2.7 million Pakistani rupees ($20,000) and soil erosion.
“The recovery of biomass lost due to this destructive action will take about a century to recover,” said the report, produced by a team of experts, including staff from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Wide Fund for Nature.
Khan said India had violated international rules such as a UN resolution which states “destruction of the environment, not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly, is clearly contrary to existing international law.”
The damage contravened International Humanitarian Law, with additional protocols to the Geneva Convention prohibiting warfare which is intended to cause “long-term” and “severe” environmental damage, he added.
“In terms of the extent of damage, I mean, the whole forest did not go up in flames — but the fact is that the only victim of this atrocity was the environment,” said Khan.
“Nature paid a price for somebody’s madness. We want compensation, retribution and condemnation of this act.”


Suicide bombers in deadly attack on Afghan ministry

Updated 20 April 2019
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Suicide bombers in deadly attack on Afghan ministry

  • At least 7 people were killed in the attack on the Afghan communications ministry in Kabul
  • The area around the building was sealed off by police as at least 3 attackers battled security forces for several hours

KABUL: Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the communications ministry in central Kabul on Saturday, officials said, in a deadly, hours-long assault that destroyed weeks of relative calm in the capital.
The Taliban said it had “nothing to do” with the attack, which left some 2,000 people stranded in the tall office building for hours at the start of the Afghan work week.
No other group claimed immediate responsibility, but the Afghan branch of Daesh has previously carried out multiple deadly attacks in the capital.
“As a result of today’s explosion/attack in Kabul city, two people have been martyred (killed) and 6 others are wounded,” the health ministry spokesman wrote in a tweet, adding 3 of the injured were women.
In a statement, the interior ministry said four civilians and three soldiers had been killed, though unverified social media posts suggested the final toll could be higher.
AFP journalists heard one big blast around 11:40 am (0710 GMT), followed by sporadic gunfire for hours afterwards.
“The information that we have is four attackers have placed themselves near the communication ministry and are engaged in gunbattles with the Afghan security forces,” Amanduddin Shariati, a security official in Kabul told AFP.
By about 5:00 p.m. (1230 GMT), the interior ministry declared the assault over.
“Operations finished. All suicide bombers killed & more than 2000 civilians staff rescued,” the ministry said on Twitter.
Panicked workers inside the 18-story building, believed to be Kabul’s tallest, moved up to the top floor as gunmen and Afghan security officials battled lower down.
One woman said she had been in a group of about 30 people on the 10th floor when the assault started, then was told to move up to the 18th floor as gunfire increased. They were all eventually rescued by commandos.
“Women were screaming and children of the kindergarten were the first to be evacuated,” the woman, who did not want to be named, told AFP.
Afghan authorities gave conflicting reports during the incident. The information ministry initially said three suicide bombers had attacked a post office building at the ministry.
General Sayed Mohammad Roshan Dil, the Kabul police chief, said four attackers had been wearing police uniforms and had targeted a shrine near the ministry.
Footage on local television showed a small plume at the building, and people climbing out windows on a lower level.
The presidential palace said in a statement “the enemies of Afghanistan have conducted a terrorist attack.”
“Once again they have created fear and have killed or wounded a number of innocent countrymen,” the statement read.
The communication ministry is located in downtown Kabul, about two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the green zone, a heavily fortified compound for foreign embassies.
The area is the city’s main commercial zone and is home to a large hotel.
Aside from a grenade attack on a military vehicle last week and persistent crime, the capital has in recent weeks enjoyed a period of relative calm.
Last year however saw a string of attacks including one where a massive bomb concealed in an ambulance killed more than 100 people.
The attack comes a week after the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive and amid ongoing fighting across Afghanistan.
It illustrates the sprawling nature of Afghanistan’s conflict, and the obstacles to peace even if a deal is reached with the Taliban.
This week in the Qatari capital Doha, a summit planned between the Taliban and officials from across Afghanistan was scrapped at the last minute due to bickering over who should attend the conference.
The collapse comes at a critical time and amid continued bloodshed in Afghanistan, where the Taliban now control or influence about half of Afghanistan and 3,804 civilians were killed there last year, according to a UN tally.
Taliban officials are separately negotiating with the United States, which wants to forge a peace deal with the militants.