UAE president Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed arrived with a large hunting entourage on a week-long private visit to Rahim Yar Khan’s Cholistan area. The Emiratis are in the Cholistan desert for their annual winter extravaganza of Houbara hunting. Besides the Pakistan Rangers, the special security troops from UAE were also deployed near the RahimYar Khan palace of Sheikh Muhammad. The UAE security contingent had preceded the arrival of Sheikh Muhammad. Crown prince Sheikh Hamdan Bin Muhammad and Deputy Prime minister of UAE Sheikh Mansoor Bin Raashid also arrived in Cholistan a few days ago. Upon their arrival, prime minister Shehbaz Sharif rolled out the red carpet for the royal guests.
Whereas the main purpose of Sheikh Muhammad‘s visit is Houbara hunting. It is expected that, on the sidelines, he will also visit Islamabad to hold meetings with the prime minister and president of Pakistan during which “They will discuss further strengthening of bilateral ties between the two countries, as well as other matters of mutual interest.”
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Understanding the matter better
Each year, members of the UAE royal family visit Pakistan around the end of the winter season to hunt the Houbara bustard, a species that is both internationally protected and critically endangered but whose meat is considered by some to be an aphrodisiac. These hunting trips are conducted under a license issued by the foreign ministry.
The Houbara Bustard is a large bird found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The North African Houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) and the Asian Houbara (Chlamydotis macqueenii) are separate species. After breeding in Central Asia during the spring, Asian Houbara bustards migrate south to spend the winter in Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, and nearby Southwest Asia. Some Asian Houbara bustards live and breed in the southern part of their range, including parts of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan.
As a result of extensive hunting and poaching, the population of Asian Houbara Bustard, according to the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC), has dwindled to roughly 42,000. The global population of Houbara (including the North African and Asian bustards) has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 2014.
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Houbara Hunting in Pakistan
For more than six decades, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry has been extending yearly invitations to guests from the Gulf States for hunting Houbara bustards in the deserts of Balochistan and Punjab, “to strengthen the country’s relations with Gulf nations”. These foreign dignitaries started visiting Pakistan for Houbara hunting in the 1960s.
Vast tracts of land in Punjab’s Cholistan desert, Sindh, and Balochistan have been allocated as hunting reserves for wealthy dignitaries from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries, who arrive in Pakistan to hunt the birds every year using hunting gear and falcons. They kill the bird for sport and also because its meat, as mentioned earlier, is supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities. Media coverage is not permitted of these secretive hunting expeditions, but the scale of each hunt is believed to be considerable. Each party has a convoy of over a dozen SUVs accompanying it and very often the dignitaries come with their cooks and staff.
The three-month official hunting season of Houbara Bustard starts on November 1 and ends on January 31 every year. The Supreme Court imposed a ban on Houbara hunting in 2014. What exactly do we expect from these Gulf countries when, for the last many decades, our foreign policy was reduced to an extension of the business deals of our rulers? There are dedicated Indian Malls in Dubai, Doha, Bahrain, and elsewhere. In our case, there are luxury apartments and villas owned by Pakistani Glitterati. The Sharifs, the Zardaris, and even Asfandyar Wali of ANP have luxury apartments in UAE.
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All of them, when not in power, touch- down in Pakistan only to take care of their political and landed property. The point here is what role our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has played in the past in brokering the business deals of our rulers.
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In November 2021, Nazim Jokhio, a Sindhi journalist, was murdered by the local wadera after Jokhio posted a video reporting he had been receiving threats about his videos on foreign dignitaries who descend upon the deserts of Pakistan during the winter for Houbara hunting.
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.