Arab dignitaries have once again been officially granted permits for hunting houbara bustard — an internationally protected bird species — in Sindh this year. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) president, king of Bahrain, and prime minister of Qatar are among the fourteen dignitaries.
Sources revealed that this year the federal government had sent a list of 14 Arab dignitaries for Falconry Season 2021-2022 to the Sindh government. It was approved during a meeting of the provincial cabinet two weeks back.
Houbara is a diplomatic asset for Pakistan. Owing to its endangerment, the houbara is protected under various international nature conservation treaties. Not only that but it is also protected under local wildlife protection laws. In addition to this, Pakistanis are not allowed to hunt it.
It may be recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan when in the opposition, used to criticize the former federal government for issuing Houbara hunting permits.
More so, he had not allowed its hunting in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-K), where his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) ruled. However, now he himself issues the permits to hunters from Saudi Arabia.
Oh, the unapologetic double standards!
Buttering up the Gulf rulers
In 2016, Pakistan’s supreme court lifted a ban on the hunting of a rare bird, the houbara bustard. The government had asked the court to review the ban, saying it harmed relations with Arab states.
Middle Eastern countries are a major source of sovereign investment in Pakistan. In fact, selling the hunters the required permits is lucrative in itself.
For decades dignitaries from the Gulf have been visiting Pakistan to hunt, as the number of houbaras has dwindled in their own countries. That has given Pakistan a special opportunity to butter up Gulf rulers.
The hunters in the Middle East prize the bird, who consider its meat an aphrodisiac. The houbara, which is about the size of a chicken, once flourished on the Arabian peninsula but now faces a high risk of extinction.
Back in 2020 as well the federal government has issued special permits to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and two other members of the Saudi ruling family to hunt the internationally protected houbara bustards during the hunting season 2020-21.
It may be noted that a case challenging the controversial hunting of houbara bustards has been pending in court for some years. However, our government and the Supreme Court do not seem interested in protecting wild animals.
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