Over the top - Masood Hasan - Sunday, March 20, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=37218&Cat=9

Iam aware that as holiday resorts go, Pakistan is not amongst the ones favoured by most animals. Based on their collective experiences that stretch over many years, living here is fraught with danger and the unexpected. Whatever animal kingdom – and to stretch the term to its extreme birds also included, exists here does so at peril. From the country’s northern most tips to the edges of its desert shores, animals have a rough deal. That is why regular stories filed by stubborn journalists of the print media, find their way to the public not that these stories make any difference whatsoever in the short or long run. For years, our brethren from across the sea have ruthlessly hunted down anything that had two legs and could fly. The ill cast Houbara Bustard, not the prettiest of the flying variety but supposedly the very home of Viagra, has been a great favourite and it is amazing that after killing them in the millions, there are still some around. An elaborate and technological wonderland has come up in Rahim Yar Khan and adjoining areas which now more or less are no longer part of Pakistan. Locals dare not step in there and any foolhardy tourist is shooed away by squads of gun-toting and threatening looking guards and private militia. Defying them is out of the question and extremely foolish. They are not here on an occupation mission but have had the full support of government after government which has spread red carpets, waived away any silly blockages, streamlined regulations and developed a unique ability to look the other way when the killing has begun and tons of the victims carted away in refrigerated, custom-built vehicles. In return, supposedly huge sums of money have been ‘injected’ into our failing economy and around the golden castles that have blossomed in the desert there are now roads and modern amenities. They may even have a McDonalds but I cannot swear to it having never been there. The Houbaras have suffered on. Without the services of an influential PR agency they have been unable to prevent what now amounts to genocide but one man’s desert is another man’s bed and the miraculous sexual powers of this forlorn looking bird have doomed their case. Personally I see a great deal of cutting edge research here provided any one has the contacts to get the real picture. Here in Pakistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has thought nothing of it, happily playing the role one usually assigns to carpets. It has ‘facilitated’ everything that was desired and what it could not facilitate itself, it got done from other departments. From the local hand-clasped ‘patwari’ to the head of the state, the lights have always been green. They say that even the urinals at R Y Khan airport are gold edged. Perhaps. And of course this has not happened overnight. I recall a picture of the legendary banker Agha Hassan Abedi in his early days as a trooper in United Bank, posing for a picture with the brethren and a dozen other grinning flunkeys. In front of them, like the left-overs of a vicious tsunami are the bullet ridden frail bodies of hundreds of Houbara Bustards. Everyone is grinning and everyone is delighted. The young Abedi, a sharp cookie had the sense to spot a gold mine when he saw just one pebble and he cashed in big time. Many of us know his mind blowing career and the tailspin that brought everything down. A great banker he may have been but no lover of wildlife was he and thus he shone in a land that pats itself on the back for all the atrocities it commits and allows to be committed on its soil. The WWF whom one would look up to for taking up cudgels on behalf of the wildlife it is mandated to protect has worked against heavy odds and sometimes conflicting interest – a former head of the WWF was far too close to the brethren and reportedly was well rewarded for his cooperation. But it has, in my opinion, been far too polite and courteous to really make an impact. Perhaps it is shackled by the very people who manage the WWF and perhaps it sees its role differently but while atrocities have been committed on wildlife, the WWF has ‘taken notice’ of such goings on but then let it all drift under the carpet. It is not the saviour one thought it might be. The number of endangered species that are under attack are well known to the WWF and I for one would have welcomed their efforts had they been more forceful than they are. Because if they are not, then who is left to ensure some kind of balance in this relationship? Although zoos do not fall under the purview of WWF, they have to the best of my knowledge, abstained from commenting on the horror that stalks the zoos. The neglect, inhumanity and indifference at play in the zoos needs to be reported yet now and then a story breaks through. And that is that. It is good that WWF installs signage in the zoos bearing its name but I would rather they shunned that and fought for the way the animals and other residents are mis-treated in the zoos. Thus it is no surprise to read that nearly 6,000 animals have been ‘gifted’ to foreign dignitaries in the past two years and they have gone largely to the royals in UAE and Saudi Arabia. Amongst these are, the report says, 2,277 camels – that averages out to ‘gifting’ about 30 camels a day(!), 1,069 cows and 2,650 sheep and goats. As per procedure, NOCs are issued by the Ministry of Livestock & Dairy Development following ‘requests’ placed by the foreign office or high officials of the land. The government has no business gifting such huge numbers. It is allowed to gift ‘a few animals’ now and then. Obviously the word few is yet to be understood in the FO which has had the time and the inclination to send no less than 18,900 requests in the last two years of which 6,000 have been accepted. Is the FO stark raving mad and what kind of diplomacy is this? Who is paying for the cost of the animals or their transport one would like to know or is it all under the misc. head? I cannot believe that our livestock position is so good that we can ‘gift’ thousands of animals wherever we like. With the amount of animals that we slaughter on religious festivals not to mention the great passion for red meat that is the hallmark of all real Pakistanis, I doubt we are going to become one of the great livestock reservoirs of the world. Migratory birds after being ruthlessly hunted down – guess by whom – have been forced to abandon flight paths made over centuries and species like the snow leopard are very much a target now. We have many pressing problems and things take priority but if we don’t wake up and take stock, we will lose what should be our legacy. Perhaps President Zardari can be persuaded to stop killing one black ‘bakra’ daily. He should know that when his time comes, no amount of black ‘bakras’ will rise to save him. Considering the way he treats them, they will be baying for his blood.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

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