Houbara bustard hunters
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Despite orders from the highest court of the province, Arab royals visited and hunted birds in the Musakhel and Panjgur districts of Balochistan
Although the Houbara bustard isan officiallyprotected specie of birds, Arab royals from the Gulf countries have been hunting them in the country with impunity. Until the late 1970s, it is said that Arab royals would go to Iran and Afghanistan to hunt the Houbara bustards. However, this came to an end when Ruhollah Khomeini, who was the Iranian religious leader of the 1979 so-called Islamic Revolution, came to power. Thereafter, due to Saudi-Iran rivalry and war in Afghanistan, Pakistan became their destination for hunting the Houbara bustard.Interestingly, in 1972, Pakistan also imposed a ban on hunting the migratory birds but the ban could not deter the Arab royals from hunting.
In previous years, the federal government issued 33 ‘special’ permits to thedignitaries of five countries in the Gulf region to kill the birds. The list of special permit holders is as follows: Arab royals from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. The Arab royals, according to the list, have been given many districts in all four provinces of the country. It is to be noted thatthese 33 permitsstate that dignitaries are allowed to hunt 100 birds each with falconrywhile the use of firearms is disallowed. Despite this, last year when Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud landed in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Balochistan’sChagai district, he massacred 2, 100 Houbara bustards within 21 days. This hunt gained critical media attention nationally and internationally.When the furor in the media was at its height, the Balochistan High Court (BHC) ordered the cancellation of all licensesthat had been issued to the Middle Eastern royalty in Balochistan.
Last year, when JafferBaloch, a divisional forest officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department of Chagai, prepared a report about the exact data of the 2, 100 birds killed and also unearthed that the governor of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (Fahd) was using a fake permit, which had been illegally produced by the foreign minister, he was transferred from his post for doinghis job honestly.
In 2010, AslamBhootani, the then speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, also claimed that the prime minister’s office had been pressuring the provincial government for the allotment of large tracts of lands to Arab royals for the purpose of hunting. He further warned that the federal government or the prime minister’s office should not pressurise the government for the allotment of theselands. On the other hand, the present provincial government of Balochistan’s so-called nationalist Baloch, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, has been hoodwinking. He himself welcomed the Arab royals in Balochistan with arms wide open to have the rare and endangered Houbara bustards massacred.Ironically, what is unfortunate and sad is the statementmade by the advisor to the chief minister of Balochistanon forest and wildlife, Obaidullah Jan Babat. It states, “Arab dignitaries are visiting development sites; they are not hunting.”
On the other hand, a source from Dalbandin, who has requested not to be named, refuted the claim made by Jan Babat. He said the governor of Tabukhad not been visiting development sites. Instead, he said that the governorhad spent his visit inthe desert areas of Dalbandin in order to hunt. Also, Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Chagai, said, “In the past, the governor of Tabuk built a gigantic and beautiful hospital and mosque by issuing funds to the governmental authorities.” But he also refuted the claim that he had come to visit the development sites in Dalbandin. However, local residents of Dalbandin are complainants that the hospital lacks doctors and basic facilities. They further add that the hospital had become a “showpiece”, where they could neither get treated, nor could they get medicines. They regretted that they had to go to Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, for treatment.
In the past, Arab dignitaries had also been under attack in Balochistan. For instance, in 2013, according to media reports, unidentified assailants attacked the hunting camp of the former Qatari oil minister, Abdullah bin Hamad al Attiyah, in the Buleda area of Balochistan’sKech district, in which one levies man was killed. Moreover, two days later,unidentified men also abducted four local men who were working with the Arab Sheikh of Qatar. After the abduction of the local men and the assault on the levies man the government authorities blamedthe Baloch insurgents for being involved, as, according to government authorities, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had sent threatening letters to Arab royals.
Nevertheless, despite orders from the highest court of the province, Arab royals visited and hunted birds in the Musakhel and Panjgur districts of Balochistan. While writing these lines, the governor of Tabuk, who last year hunted 2, 100 birds, is presently camped again in the Bartagazi area of Dalbandin and the provincial government of Balochistan, instead of implementing the verdict of the BHC, has approached the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan to challenge the cancellation of licenses to the Arab dignitaries.
Despite the fact that the Houbara bustard is listed as “vulnerable” in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN) red list, Arab dignitaries time and again violate the laws of the country and massacre the migratory birds. Though they have bans imposed on hunting the Houbara bustard in their own countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, they kill the same birds in Pakistan. This meansthat our laws do not matter in front of Arab dignitaries, while Pakistanis are beheaded in Saudi Arabia for breaking the law. Even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is silent over the Houbara hunting matter. Surprisingly, he sent his federal minister, AhsanIqbal, to welcome the governor of Tabukin Dalbandin last month.
Unnamed sources also revealed that Arab sheiks of Gulf countries have also been brought illegally to Balochistan to hunt the Houbara bustards. They hunt annually without having licenses. Though our neighbouring country,India,has banned Houbara bustard hunting because the bird is atrisk of extinction, we are not learning any lesson from them. Pitifully, we have let our love for the Arabs mercilessly endanger this bird.