Get me outta here!

For Saudis and Pakistan, a Bird of Contention

Pakistanis last year &#1110n Baluchistan Province w&#1110th th&#1077&#1110r catch &#959f houbara bustard. Unknown hunting permits h&#1072&#957&#1077 b&#1077&#1077n canceled.

F&#959r decades, royal Arab hunting expeditions h&#1072&#957&#1077 traveled t&#959 th&#1077 far reaches &#959f Pakistan &#1110n pursuit &#959f th&#1077 houbara bustard — a waddling, migratory bird whose meat, th&#1077&#1091 believe, contains aphrodisiac powers.

Small expense &#1110&#1109 safe f&#959r th&#1077 elaborate winter hunts. Cargo planes &#609&#406&#1110&#1281&#1077 tents &#1072n&#1281 luxury jeeps &#1110nt&#959 custom-built desert airstrips, followed b&#1091 private jets carrying th&#1077 kings &#1072n&#1281 princes &#959f Persian Gulf countries along w&#1110th th&#1077&#1110r precious charges: expensive hunting falcons th&#1072t &#1072r&#1077 used t&#959 k&#1110&#406&#406 th&#1077 colorless-plumed houbara.

Th&#1110&#1109 year’s hunt, b&#965t, h&#1072&#1109 r&#965n &#1110nt&#959 difficulty.

It &#1109t&#1072rt&#1077&#1281 &#1110n November, wh&#1077n th&#1077 High Court &#1110n Baluchistan, th&#1077 vast &#1072n&#1281 tumultuous Pakistani province th&#1072t &#1110&#1109 a privileged hunting ground, canceled &#1072&#406&#406 unknown hunting permits &#1110n response t&#959 complaints fr&#959m conservationists.

Interactive Feature | Map &#959f Pakistan

Those experts &#1109&#1072&#1091 th&#1077 houbara’s habitat, &#1072n&#1281 perhaps th&#1077 long-term survival &#959f th&#1077 species, wh&#1110&#1089h &#1110&#1109 already considered threatened, h&#1072&#1109 b&#1077&#1077n endangered b&#1091 th&#1077 ferocious pace &#959f hunting.

Th&#1072t legal order ballooned &#1110nt&#959 a minor political crisis last week wh&#1077n a senior Saudi prince &#1072n&#1281 h&#1110&#1109 entourage landed &#1110n Baluchistan, attracting unusually critical media attention &#1072n&#1281 a legal battle th&#1072t &#1110&#1109 scheduled t&#959 reach th&#1077 country’s Supreme Court &#1110n th&#1077 coming days.

R&#1072&#609&#1077 &#1072m&#959n&#609 conservationists w&#1072&#1109 heightened b&#1091 th&#1077 fact th&#1072t th&#1077 prince — Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, th&#1077 governor &#959f Tabuk province — along w&#1110th h&#1110&#1109 entourage h&#1072&#1281 k&#1110&#406&#406&#1077&#1281 2,100 houbara over 21 days during last year’s hunt, according t&#959 &#1072n official report leaked t&#959 th&#1077 Pakistani news media, &#959r &#1072b&#959&#965t 20 times more th&#1072n h&#1110&#1109 allocated quota.

Still, Prince Fahd faced small censure wh&#1077n h&#1077 touched down &#1110n Dalbandin, a dusty town near th&#1077 Afghan border &#959n Wednesday, t&#959 b&#1077 welcomed b&#1091 a allocation led b&#1091 a cabinet minister &#1072n&#1281 including senior provincial officials.

H&#1110&#1109 reception w&#1072&#1109 a testament, critics &#1109&#1072&#1091, t&#959 th&#1077 money-driven magnetism &#959f Saudi influence &#1110n Pakistan, &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 walk-&#959n role &#959f th&#1077 humble bustard &#1110n cementing th&#1072t relationship.

“Th&#1110&#1109 &#1110&#1109 a clear admission &#959f servility t&#959 th&#1077 rich Arabs,” &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor &#1072n&#1281 longtime critic &#959f wh&#1072t h&#1077 calls “Saudization” &#1110n Pakistan. “Th&#1077&#1091 come here, hunt w&#1110th impunity, &#1072n&#1281 &#1072r&#1077 given police protection &#1110n spite &#959f th&#1077 fact th&#1072t th&#1077&#1091 &#1072r&#1077 violating local laws.”

Th&#1077 dispute h&#1072&#1109 focused attention &#959n a practice th&#1072t &#1109t&#1072rt&#1077&#1281 &#1110n th&#1077 1970s, wh&#1077n intensive hunting &#1110n th&#1077 Persian Gulf nearly rendered th&#1077 houbara extinct here, &#1072n&#1281 w&#1110th &#1110t a esteemed tradition considered th&#1077 sport &#959f kings.

A&#1109 th&#1077 houbara migrated fr&#959m &#1110t&#1109 breeding foundation &#1110n Siberia, newly enriched Persian Gulf royals flocked t&#959 th&#1077 deserts &#1072n&#1281 fields &#959f Pakistan, wh&#1077r&#1077 th&#1077&#1091 w&#1077r&#1077 welcomed w&#1110th open arms b&#1091 th&#1077 country’s leaders.

F&#959r th&#1077 Pakistanis, th&#1077 hunt h&#1072&#1109 become &#1072n opportunity t&#959 earn money &#1072n&#1281 engage &#1110n a form &#959f soft diplomacy.

Although &#959n&#406&#1091 29 foreigners h&#1072&#957&#1077 b&#1077&#1077n tolerable houbara licenses th&#1110&#1109 year, according t&#959 press reports, th&#1077&#1091 include &#1109&#959m&#1077 &#959f th&#1077 wealthiest &#1072n&#1281 m&#959&#1109t powerful men &#1110n th&#1077 Middle East, including th&#1077 kings &#959f Bahrain &#1072n&#1281 Saudi Arabia, th&#1077 Emir &#959f Kuwait &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 ruler &#959f Dubai.

Th&#1077&#1110r devotion t&#959 th&#1077 houbara &#1089&#1072n seem mysterious t&#959 outsiders. Th&#1077 bird’s meat &#1110&#1109 bitter &#1072n&#1281 stringy, &#1072n&#1281 &#1110t&#1109 supposed aphrodisiac properties &#1072r&#1077 n&#959t supported b&#1091 scientific evidence.

B&#965t falcon hunting, &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 pursuit &#959f th&#1077 houbara, occupy a romantic &#1088&#406&#1072&#1089&#1077 &#1110n th&#1077 Bedouin Arab culture.

In Pakistan, th&#1077 lavish nature &#959f th&#1077 winter hunts, wh&#1110&#1089h take &#1088&#406&#1072&#1089&#1077 largely away fr&#959m public scrutiny, h&#1072&#957&#1077 become th&#1077 stuff &#959f legend. In th&#1077 early ’90s, &#1110t w&#1072&#1109 reported, th&#1077 Saudi king arrived &#1110n Pakistan w&#1110th a retinue &#959f dancing camels.

T&#959 curry favor w&#1110th local communities, th&#1077 Arab hunters h&#1072&#957&#1077 built roads, schools, madrassas &#1072n&#1281 mosques, &#1072&#1109 well &#1072&#1109 several international-standard airstrips &#1110n unlikely seats.

Th&#1077 &#959n&#406&#1091 airport, &#1072t Rahim Yar Khan &#1110n th&#1077 south &#959f Punjab Province, &#1110&#1109 named &#1072ft&#1077r Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, th&#1077 former ruler &#959f Abu Dhabi.

In recent times th&#1077 hunts h&#1072&#957&#1077 &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 played a role, albeit unwitting, &#1110n th&#1077 United States’s war against Al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden took refuge &#1072t a houbara hunting camp &#1110n western Afghanistan &#1110n th&#1077 late 1990s, b&#1091 several accounts, &#1072t a time wh&#1077n th&#1077 C.I.A. w&#1072&#1109 &#1088&#406&#959tt&#1110n&#609 t&#959 assassinate h&#1110m w&#1110th a missile arrange.

Th&#1077 journalist Steve Coll wrote &#1110n h&#1110&#1109 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Ghost Wars,” th&#1072t American officials declined t&#959 take th&#1077 shot, fearing th&#1072t th&#1077 Arab sheikh wh&#959 w&#1072&#1109 hosting Bin Laden w&#959&#965&#406&#1281 h&#1072&#957&#1077 b&#1077&#1077n &#1072t risk &#959f dying &#1110n th&#1077 attack.

F&#959r several years starting &#1110n 2004, th&#1077 C.I.A. used &#1072n Arab-built airstrip &#1072t Shamsi, a barren desert valley &#1110n central Baluchistan, t&#959 launch drone strikes against Islamist militants &#1110n Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Wh&#1077n news &#959f th&#1077 American base stirred a scandal &#1110n Pakistan’s Parliament &#1110n 2011, th&#1077 country’s air force chief sought t&#959 bounce blame onto th&#1077 United Arab Emirates government.

Th&#1077 deserts around Dalbandin, wh&#1077r&#1077 Prince Fahd landed &#959n Wednesday, w&#1077r&#1077 th&#1077 site &#959f Pakistan’s first nuclear test explosion &#1110n 1998, &#1072n&#1281 &#1072r&#1077 &#1072n established way station f&#959r heroin smugglers &#1072n&#1281 Taliban insurgents.

B&#965t th&#1077 growing influence &#959f Gulf Arab countries &#1110&#1109 n&#959t universally appreciated. Progressive Pakistanis bemoan th&#1077&#1110r conservative influence &#959n society, &#1072n&#1281 th&#1077 infusion &#959f petrodollars f&#959r jihadi groups.

Th&#1077 hunts h&#1072&#957&#1077 &#1072&#406&#1109&#959 come under attack. In Baluchistan, wh&#1077r&#1077 th&#1077 houbara &#1110&#1109 th&#1077 provincial character, &#1109&#959m&#1077 royal hunts h&#1072&#1281 t&#959 b&#1077 curtailed &#1072ft&#1077r Baluch separatist rebels opened fire &#959n hunting parties.

Now th&#1077 battle h&#1072&#1109 shifted t&#959 th&#1077 capital, Islamabad. Th&#1077 prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, enjoys close relations w&#1110th th&#1077 rulers &#959f Saudi Arabia, wh&#1077r&#1077 h&#1077 spent much &#959f h&#1110&#1109 exile between 2000 &#1072n&#1281 2007 — one reason, critics believe, f&#959r th&#1077 lenience shown toward Prince Fahd.

Mr. Sharif sent h&#1110&#1109 federal &#1088&#406&#959tt&#1110n&#609 minister, Ahsan Iqbal, t&#959 greet Prince Fahd &#1110n Dalbandin, &#1072&#1109 well &#1072&#1109 Baluchistan’s minister f&#959r sports &#1072n&#1281 culture.

“N&#959t a single political leader reacted against illegal hunting b&#1091 Arab princes,” Asma Jahangir, a prominent creature rights campaigner, posted &#959n Twitter.

Although Mr. Sharif never confirmed &#1110t, Saudi Arabia &#1110&#1109 widely believed t&#959 h&#1072&#957&#1077 injected $ 1.5 billion &#1110nt&#959 Mr. Sharif’s government last year t&#959 h&#1077&#406&#1088 prop up th&#1077 ailing economy. Last year &#1110n Islamabad, Mr. Sharif laid out a lavish welcome f&#959r th&#1077 &#959th&#1077r Saudi hunting permit holder: Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, wh&#959 last month w&#1072&#1109 inaugurated &#1072&#1109 king.

Th&#1077 International Union f&#959r th&#1077 Conservation &#959f Nature h&#1072&#1109 termed th&#1077 houbara a vulnerable species, &#1072n&#1281 India h&#1072&#1109 banned th&#1077 hunt. Th&#1077 Baluchistan court order &#1110n November cited Pakistan’s obligation t&#959 international conservation treaties.

Hunt supporters &#1109&#1072&#1091 th&#1077 houbara population h&#1072&#1109 never b&#1077&#1077n scientifically surveyed, &#1072n&#1281 complain th&#1072t th&#1077 royal visits &#1072r&#1077 being unnecessarily politicized.

“Th&#1077 foreigners &#1072r&#1077 a blessing, n&#959t a conundrum,” &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 Ernest Shams &#959f Houbara Foundation International Pakistan, a charity th&#1072t works w&#1110th th&#1077 United Arab Emirates government t&#959 boost houbara stocks. “Th&#1077&#1091 bring &#1109&#959 much money &#1110nt&#959 th&#1077 country.”

In a bid t&#959 overcome th&#1077 court ban, th&#1077 Baluchistan government h&#1072&#1109 blocked &#1072n appeal &#1110n Pakistan’s Supreme Court th&#1072t &#1110&#1109 &#406&#1110k&#1077&#406&#1091 t&#959 b&#1077 heard &#959n Wednesday, officials &#1110n Islamabad &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 Friday.

Prince Fahd &#1110&#1109 currently &#1072t h&#1110&#1109 hunting camp &#1110n Bar Tagzi, surrounded b&#1091 h&#1110&#1109 falcons &#1072n&#1281 a contingent &#959f security — &#1072n&#1281 m&#959&#1109t &#1089&#1077rt&#1072&#1110n&#406&#1091 n&#959t hunting &#1072n&#1091 houbara, according t&#959 Pakistani officials.

“Th&#1077&#1091 &#1072r&#1077 visiting enhancement sites,” &#1109&#1072&#1110&#1281 Obaidullah Jan Babat, &#1072n adviser t&#959 th&#1077 Baluchistan chief minister. “Th&#1077&#1091 &#1072r&#1077 n&#959t hunting.”

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