Arshad Abbasi

The migratory birds which travel the distance of thousands of miles from the inclement cold lands to seek the comfort of warm winters in Pakistan fall prey to the hunters. These hunters flock to the districts of South Punjab, Upper Sindh and Northern Baluchistan to satisfy their appetite for hunting.

So both birds and men travel long distances to the forests and deserts of Pakistan but one for seeking life and the other ending life. The hunting season starts from November and ends around the end of February. In these few months, one can notice the movement of convoys and caravans in luxury vehicles in areas which otherwise hardly see the signs of wealth and opulence.

The locals of these marginalized areas of the country just look on as their elders play hosts to the hunters who happen from the Arab countries. The lucky ones find some menial tasks to do for them for few pennies, which they willingly accept.

The usual silence coupled with the nonchalance of the government was broken when the issue of hunting brought to light by the environmental activists, civil society and the literate citizens of the neglected areas of the country started questioning the killing of what is termed endangered species.

Here comes the specific mention of Houbara Bustard, which became a centerpiece of the whole story of hunting practice in Pakistan. Houbara Bustard is on the verge of extinction in the world owing to its sharply reducing population which at present is mere .1 million in the world.

The bird has become a favourite for Arabs who consider its aphrodisiac value to increase and sustain physical potency. The issue landed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which banned the hunting of Houbara Bustard in its verdict of August 2015.

Subsequently, the Federal Government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court, which overturned its earlier decision and lifted the ban in January 2016 stating that the matter falls in provincial jurisdiction. The facts of the case reveal some strange logic on the part of the government allowing the Arab royals to hunt for the bird, which is in the red list of endangered species designated as such by the International Convention on Migratory Birds.

The government justified its stance by stating that it would allow hunting on sustainable basis implying that the procreation of the endangered species would make up for the hunted ones. Furthermore, it was stated that the brotherly ties with the Arab countries would be negatively affected if the hunting is not permitted.

To this it was quipped by the opponents that the government is laying out the scenario as if the relations with these countries exclusively hinge on killing a bird. Another justification of the government stands on a thin ice that the arrival and stay of the Arab hunters is good for the down-trodden areas of the country.

As for the benefits of allowing hunting of the endangered species for the poverty-stricken parts of Pakistan, nothing can be more fallacious and far from reality. The main hunting grounds in South Punjab, Rural Sindh and far-flung parts of Baluchistan still suffer from crushing poverty.

Building an airport or a small hospital does not mean at all that these towns and villages have sprung to the higher margins of living. These facilities at best are meant to cater to the luxurious hospitality of the foreign hunters.

The pattern is that the royal families of the Middle East have been able to warm up to the influential local feudal families who have large fiefdoms managed by bonded labourers.

These friendships date back to decades and are a way to ensure symbiotic equation whereby these local land lords are able to smoothen the path to access the levers of government. In return, the guest hunters are free to stalk the lands for their preys. The hunters come and go but the poor people of these areas remain poor.

This year again there were concerns expressed by the same quarters affiliated with conservation of nature and wild life. The social aspects of this questionable hunting practice suffer from attention deficit. This may be explained by the fact that making noises about environmentalism has become a fashion in the world of activism whereas poverty is taken to be a norm or the state of nature.

Another hunting season has just ended leaving in its wake the same questions unanswered and concerns unaddressed. The poor residents of the hunting grounds have seen another round of VIP movement in otherwise forgotten tracts of land. It is always a matter of a second guess that when will the government have the spine to put an end to the hunting of not only endangered species but also lift the people of these areas from the morass of poverty.