Why Pakistan lets Arab bigwigs set falcons on rare birds

THE ASIAN houbara is an unlikely diplomatic asset. An elusive, desert-dwelling bird, its expression suggests bad temper rather than entente. Yet the migratory, chicken-sized fowl, also known as the Macqueen’s bustard, is considered prized sport by Arab falconers. Its meat is also thought to be an aphrodisiac. For decades dignitaries from the Gulf have been visiting Pakistan to hunt, as the number of houbaras has dwindled in their own countries and as hunting has become dangerous in other places, such as Iraq and Syria. That has given Pakistan a special opportunity to butter up Gulf potentates.

Selling the hunters the required permits is lucrative in itself. In the province of Punjab, all six designated hunting grounds were used during the season that ended on March 31st. Each hunting party had paid $100,000 to be assigned a territory and another $100,000 for a ten-day permit authorising the killing of 100 birds, as well as $1,000 for each falcon they brought with them. Hunting permits are also available in the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.

But the sport’s main value to Pakistan is diplomatic. This season saw visits from kings, crown princes, ministers and governors from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Pakistan’s leaders called on many of these grandees. It was the least they could...

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