Pakistan’s practice of granting hunting permits to Arab sheikhs ends up putting money in the wrong pockets
Every year, the Pakistani government rolls out the red carpet to its honoured guests — an assortment of emirs and sheikhs who come to hunt the houbara bustard. Hunting this bird is illegal in Pakistan for most parts, unless of course, you are one of the Pakistani government’s honoured guests and contribute to its goal of poverty alleviation and infrastructure development in the underdeveloped hunting regions.
For it was the Foreign Ministry that awarded dozens of special permits to Arab dignitaries to hunt the bird each year, despite the fact that Pakistanis have been prohibited from killing the houbara since 1972. Yet each season, which lasts from November until March, their countryside is carved up, like a giant salami into ever smaller parts. Some sheikhs â€” among them the Saudi Minister of Defense â€” receive permits that cover thousands of square miles. No other hunters may cross the invisible line that separates Prince Sultan’s personal hunting grounds from those of, for example, Sheikh Zayed al-Nahayan, the President of the United Arab Emirates, or the Dubai leader, Sheikh Maktoum. At least, in principle, that is the rule.
Many Pakistanis are puzzled by the royal hunts, and can’t really explain why, with the arrival of the houbara, scores of Middle Eastern potentates â€” Presidents, ambassadors, ministers, generals, governors â€” descend upon their country in fleets of private plans. They come armed with computers and radar, hundreds of servants and other staff, customized weapons, and priceless falcons, which are used to hunt the bird. But then the houbara bustard has been a fascination to the great sheikhs of the desert for hundreds of years.[Mary Ann Weaver/New Yorker]
So is the houbara bustard really being sacrificed on the altar of economic development?
According to unofficial estimates, Arab sheikhs spend about ten to twenty million dollars per hunt on houbara bustards. One of the excuses Pakistani government uses is that sheikhs contribute to the local infrastructure development, which could be contradicted by the private airports that are useless for the local population and beneficial for sheikhs themselves, not to mention mosques that no one uses anyway[TED]
Besides, some of those petrodollars ultimately end up in the pockets of terrorists.
The rise of Sipah-e-Sahaba was owed to the money that seeped into its seminaries in South Punjab from the Arab guests. Once the money appeared, the seminaries opened like mushrooms.
Related Link: Hunting with the Sheikhs (pdf), an article by Mary Ann Weaver, in the New Yorker magazine