By Zia Ur Rehman

November 1, 2013

As winters begin, Arab royals start to arrive in Balochistan to hunt the endangered Houbara Bustard. But recent attacks by Baloch insurgents on Arab hunting camps in the province have raised new concerns.

On October 22, unidentified men attacked the hunting camp of former Qatari oil minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah in Buleda area of Kech district, killing one Levies official and taking away weapons and vehicles from the guards.

Two days later, armed men abducted four members of his convoy from the Mand area of the same district. According to a local journalist, the abducted men were locals working with the Arab Sheikh.

endangered Houbara Bustard

The attacks are not a new phenomenon. A convoy of the Qatari minister was also attacked in Kech in February this year. The Baloch National Front (BNF) led by Dr Allah Nazar Baloch had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sources in the Balochistan government said the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had sent threatening letters to Arab royals, warning them against coming to Balochistan for hunting. “We ask the Arab hunters to limit their activities,” BLF spokesman Basham Baloch had told reporters in 2010. “The Baloch have old ties with the Arabs and we do not want to sabotage these friendly relations.”

Every year, the federal government issues Houbara Bustard hunting permits mostly to members of the ruling families of Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Arab hunting enthusiasts have been coming to Balochistan for the prized bird since the 1970s. The visitors have been given full access, security and protocol from the Pakistani government.

Arab hunters kill more than 300 birds each, and believe Houbara Bustard meat is an aphrodisiac

“They mainly hunt in the districts of Kharan, Chagai and parts of Mekran. In return, they have set up several hospitals in remote parts of the province,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of The Baloch Hal news website.

The Houbara Bustard, locally known as Taloor, begins to arrive in Pakistan from Central Asia in November, and returns in March, according to an official in the Forest and Wildlife department of Sindh. It is the official bird of the province.

A code of conduct restricts the hunting period to 10 days with a bag limit of 100 birds, but it is not always respected. The official said hunters kill more than 300 birds each, and believe Houbara Bustard meat is an aphrodisiac.

The birds are classified as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, and their population has declined rapidly in the recent years because of unsustainable hunting levels and habitat degradation. Pakistan’s environment ministry strongly opposes the hunting permits.

Analysts say the hostility shown by Baloch separatist groups towards Arab hunters is a new phenomenon. “Since the intensification of the nationalist movement, the Baloch have become more alert as to who visits their land and for what purpose,” Malik Siraj Akbar said.

Since the Baloch insurgency revolves around control over territory and resources, they have opposed and attacked any “outsiders” regardless of their motivation, he said.

“On the one hand, the army is not allowing international aid organizations to help the earthquake-affected population of Awaran, and on the other hand, Arab hunters with their petro-fuelled lifestyles are freely roaming on Baloch land and hunting birds,” said a member of Baloch Students Organization’s Azad faction (BSO-A).

He said Islamabad had sold thousands of acres of land to Arab princess in Balochistan. In 2010, then Balochistan Assembly speaker Aslam Bhootani had claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office was pressuring the provincial government for the allotment large tracts of land to Arab royals for hunting purposes.

A parliamentarian belonging to ruling coalition in Balochistan Assembly said that the provincial government was seriously considering a ban on such hunting. “There is a lot of pressure on us to protect indigenous wildlife in the province,” he said.

Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and a researcher.


Twitter: @zalmayzia