The arrival of Prince Fahad Bin Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, Governer of the Tabuk province in Saudi Arabia, heralds the beginning of an influx of Middle-Eastern royal family members coming to Pakistan and hunting the endangered houbara bustard, a bird that the country should be making conservation efforts for, instead of hunting.
However, it seems futile to argue for a ban on hunting the rare bird, seeing that the yearly visits from Middle-Eastern royalty are an accepted fact. Pakistan’s ‘soft diplomacy’ is obvious in the licenses granted. 14 Qatari princes managed to obtain licences this year, while previously most of the visits were by Saudi or Emirati royalty. This “cornerstone” of our foreign policy, as described by the Supreme Court in 2016, has only played havoc with the lives of farmers living in the Thal region and none of the money from hunting has gone into building infrastructure for the locals.
It is argued that it is not as if Pakistan has a booming tourist sector, that we should be turning away rich Arabs. But even if we admit to the idea, that this the only lucrative avenue for tourism the government can develop, can we buy in to the argument that the government is really employing sustainable hunting mechanisms to help preserve the bird population? Not really. The hunting parties are given a limit of 100 birds in a maximum 10-day period, but often exceed their quota. In 2014, a Saudi prince killed more than 2,000 birds in a 21-day hunting safari sparking national outcry. And while the sale of licences is of monetary value to Pakistan, the Punjab government often spends more to secure the protection of the royal family members that visit.
While killing any living thing, just for for sport, is morally reprehensible, we live in a country where killing for sport is accepted. In the case of Arab royalty, it seems the Pakistani state just cannot say no to its generous friends. Yet, it was the job of the government to make sure that our territory was not used as an extended backyard for foreigners, whether it was for flying drones or shooting birds Pakistani’s themselves are banned from. It was also the job of the government to make sure that Pakistan’s biodiversity was protected and sustained. While the first is a forgone conclusion, the second can still be salvaged. The government’s efforts to preserve the habitat of the bustard and other migratory birds resulted in the announcement of The Migratory Birds Endowment Fund by the Prime Minister in October last year. Simultaneously, the number of royals visiting has also increased. It remains to be seen if the hunted bird can survive the increasing number of hunters.