Bowing to Arab pressure: Nature pays the price of politics
The “West” is by far Pakistan’s favourite whipping boy. Many view the Pakistani state as subservient to Western demands, compromising its interests and the welfare of its citizens to please its “master”.
Closer to home are another set of masters who have made Pakistan their playground and its peoples its servants. The rulers of many Gulf States have for long relied on the cheap labour that has built their palaces, roads, buildings and filled the rank and file of their military.
Not content with the rabid exploitation of the Pakistani labour class, endangered species such as the houbara bustard famous in the Arab world as an aphrodisiac, have been hunted to near extinction.
Eager to please
This year is no different. The government has issued 28 special hunting permits to Gulf dignitaries for hunting the Houbara Bustard in gross violation of Pakistan’s wildlife laws. The United Nations Bonn Convention on migratory species, of which Pakistan is a signatory, protects the Houbara Bustard due to the threat of its looming extinction.
The hunting permits are supposed to cover a period of 10 days in December and January. However, by October each year advanced parties arrive to set up camp. They displace local nomadic communities, destroy local shrubbery and a strict security cordon makes sure that annoying locals are kept away.
Areas allocated for such hunts are not limited. For example, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the UAE has been allotted hunting permits in three provinces. Areas include, Rahimyar Khan, Rajanpur and DG Khan, Sukkur, Ghotki, Nawabshah, Sandghar, Zhob, Ormara, Gawadar, Pasni, Panjur and Washuk districts.
Recently, the Balochistan government complained that the prime minister’s office is pressing them to lease out land in Lasbela to UAE dignitaries for hunting purposes. Is it not strange that a federal government that claims to sympathise with the Baloch people and is striving to protect the rights and interests of the province would bend over backwards to make sure that a foreign ruler was obliged?
Further, such hunting parties featuring the who’s who of Arab royalty have also been granted tax exemptions for all their property and imports for hunting purposes. An official from the FBR argued;
There is no decision to withdraw the exemptions because this is a commitment with the Gulf sheikhs who invest in Pakistan. We will continue with it,” the official said, adding similar exemptions were also given to the United Nations, charitable organisations and diplomats.
A heavy price
So, in exchange for investment the Pakistani state is willing to allow its natural habitat to be destroyed and vast expanses of its land earmarked for foreigners use? True, the UN, NGO’s and diplomats are also granted exemption but then again how many UN organisations are hunting animals endangered of extinction?
In a period of high inflation, terrorism and stagnant economic growth, the status of an endangered species may seem trivial. However, the case of bowing to the entertainment needs of Arab rulers is symptomatic of the exploitative nature of our relationship with Gulf States.
For one, the Pakistani state offers so many incentives and breaks its own laws to facilitate the whims of Arab rulers. Is this relationship between equals?
Not the best friends
The treatment of migrant workers in Gulf States is well documented. Their passports are seized, they are not able to leave the country whenever they want as their visas restrict their entry and exit, the “camps” where labourers are forced to live on the outskirts of major urban centres are intolerable, where 200 workers share one toilet, for example.
Pakistani’s are summarily beheaded in Saudi Arabia, and while the arrest of a Pakistani in the West makes headline news, the Pakistani state seems to accept the fate of its citizens incarcerated in the Middle East and remains silent. What of the case of Dr Ayaz, a Pakistani dentist who disappeared in the UAE? Both the government and the media remained silent.
We question American intentions in the region, while we hardly question the motives of our “Muslim brothers” in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia since the 1980s has been funding Wahhabism in Pakistan. Various sectarian groups are funded by either Saudi Arabia or Iran, making Pakistan their proxy battlefield.
Money does not equal friendship
I am not suggesting that Middle Eastern rulers are more evil than the West or vice versa. There is no doubt that various Middle Eastern governments have pumped in billions into Pakistan in the form of state aid or commercial investments. However, there isn’t any correlation between the amounts of funds offered and the degree of friendship. The US has pumped billions into Pakistan too, but we do not view our relationship with the US as a relationship between equals.
We are fooling ourselves if we believe that these Arab Royal families, who treat their own citizens with the contempt of subjects rather than citizens, help Pakistan out of the goodness of their hearts. Arab states are far from democratic, where opposition is stifled and human rights are consistently abused. That our politicians choose to make Dubai and Jeddah their second home from where they plot their democratic return to rule Pakistan is quite ironic.
Many Arab governments have realised that the world is changing and with it, their external relationships. Dubai, after the crush of its property market now relies increasingly on the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi. Facing internal threats of terrorism and rising militancy along the Yemeni border, the Saudi government is now viewing the same intolerant view of Islam that it propagated as a threat to the Saudi royal family. The Saudi government along with the UAE have both made massive multi-billion dollar purchases of arms from the US and France, to ward off the rise of a potentially nuclear powered Iran. The recognition of a growing Indian economy persuaded many Arab states to lobby for the inclusion of India in the OIC.
While the Arab world seems to be moving on, Pakistan seems to believe its own propaganda of repeating the cliché’s of “Muslim brothers” and “a relationship thicker than blood”. The world is changing, the region is changing, and the Arab world is changing. We however, seem stuck in an asymmetric relationship with various Gulf States.
It may be a trivial issue, but banning the hunting of the Houbara Bustard may be a first step to reclaim some balance in a hopelessly uneven relationship.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.