What makes for our foreign policy, we thought we had some idea about it given its impact on the national security. But what we never knew and now know is that in actual fact what makes for one of the ‘cornerstones’ of our foreign policy is none else but the invite sent every year to the Arab royalties for seasonal hunting of the houbara bustard.
The Foreign Office has therefore moved the Supreme Court for a review of its ban on bustard hunting imposed last August, because it tends to ‘adversely affect the country’s already-weakened relations with the Gulf states’. The apex court had ordered the federal and provincial governments not to grant permits to hunt the threatened bird.
Given the growing threat to this migratory bird due to its excessive hunting, there have been calls by the wildlife agencies for protection of the migratory houbara bustard. But in Pakistan these calls remained unheard – till last winter when a Saudi prince bagged as many as 2100 bustards in his 21-day safari in the Chaghi district of Balochistan. This was utterly scandalous that while in his own country, in the Al-Sayd Reserve, extra care is being taken to protect and promote the bustard birds he was at liberty to wipe out the same very bird from Pakistan.
According to the FO, however, the ban should be lifted just because “falconry is not merely a sport for Arabs, but also one of their most cherished customs and recognised as a cultural heritage by the Unesco”. But that is a ridiculous argument; we are long past the age of cultural imperialism.
How untenable is the claim that provincial authorities are empowered to exempt bustards from the schedule of protected animals and grant permits for their hunt under laws, which are grossly outdated and out of tune with ground realities. These grossly outdated laws need to be abolished or suitably amended. The bustard hunting saga offends the universal values of decency as it tends to cast us in the master-slave equation with the Arab hunters.
Then there is this convoluted argument that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognises that ‘economies, cultures and well-being of all human societies depend on the use of biodiversity, rather than constructing artificial distinction between people and nature’. How come a bid to save the houbara bustard from extinction is opposed to the well-being of our society, and so this destruction of our eco-system is in the larger interest of Pakistan? According to the IUCN, the bustard is already on the list of ‘threatened’ species.
Should our Foreign Office has its way, it would move to the death-row of ‘endangered’ species. If one prince can kill 2,100 bustards in one area in one season, consider the size of the hunters’ bag when no less than a score of royals camp in large tracks in Balochistan, upper Sindh and southern Punjab. Yes, the visiting foreign dignitaries bring with them ‘considerable finances which were exclusively used for the development of the areas where they hunted’. But is it a good enough reward for which Pakistan should barter away its sovereignty.
But for such shortsighted considerations we have already mortgaged a chunk of our freedom of action, while others including places the hunters come from do not. We don’t know what would be the Supreme Court’s order on FO’s review petition. But we do know that houbara bustard is under threat of extinction, and like many other near-extinction species it needs to be spared the annual ritual of seasonal hunting.
Source: Business Recorder