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Feb 26, 8:18 AM EST

Taliban leader encourages people to plant trees

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AP Photo/Afghan Islamic Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Springtime in Afghanistan usually brings a spike in violence as the Taliban takes advantage of the thaw to launch a wave of fresh attacks. But the Taliban's leader has just issued a statement calling on Afghans to plant more trees.

In a public letter issued Sunday in four languages, including English, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said that, "the Mujahideen and beloved countrymen must join hands in tree planting."

The statement does point out that the Taliban remain, "actively engaged in a struggle against foreign invaders and their hirelings" - a reference to the Kabul government that the militant group seeks to overthrow.

Shah Hussain Murtazawi, deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, dismissed the statement as an attempt to "deceive public opinion" and distract from the Taliban's "crimes and destruction."

"Since the establishment of the Taliban movement the only things that these people have in their minds are fighting, crimes and destruction," he said. "How is it possible for the Taliban to think about planting trees or protecting the environment in the country?"

Most of Afghanistan's big cities, including the capital Kabul, are over populated and there are few public green spaces or parks. According to officials from the Afghan Public Health Ministry, up to 4000 citizens die each year in Kabul due to illnesses brought on or exacerbated by air pollution.

Wahid Muzhda, a political analyst in Kabul, said that announcements like this - and other statements where they claim to be building roads and bridges - could be part of a Taliban campaign to show that they would provide enlightened leadership in areas of the country that they control.

Akhunzada's statement cites Islamic tradition and the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed to reinforce its environmental message.

"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," it says. "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."

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