There’s always the brighter side of things. A bit of Arab anger following our waffling but intrinsically sound stand on Yemen may hold the promise of some good. If this anger extends to the point where Arab sheikhs and other grandees decide not to do their winter hunting in Pakistan, wouldn’t that be a minor cause for celebration?
Our Arab benefactors, who in this crisis are strongly giving the impression that they have a sense of entitlement as far as Pakistan is concerned, are hunting the Houbara Bustard to extinction. Some more winters and there would be precious few of these persecuted birds left to hunt.
Just as no Pakistani government can roll back the frontiers of Prohibition – things done in the name of the holy faith, or indeed for the greater glory of the faith, are not to be undone – no Pakistani government can have the gumption to say no to our Gulf benefactors when it comes to the all-important, and all-consuming, pursuit of the poor Houbara.
And the ritualistic noises made in the media about this annual winter slaughter don’t amount to much, having not the slightest effect on the world’s richest class of hunters. (Hunting has its own rules but where did this SUV hunting come from?)
Baloch nationalism also fails the Houbara test. Baloch nationalism seems to end where the lines of Gulf hunting begin. The Baloch are a mighty proud people…a circumstance which doesn’t stop many a Baloch chieftain from sucking up to Gulf hunters during the winter season.
So nothing else availing, could it be that the Yemen crisis finally comes to the rescue of this endangered species?
But first should we not determine why the Houbara is such a prized part of Gulf cuisine during the winter months? Because – and we need not hold our breaths on this score – it is supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities. Kissinger, as everyone knows, said that power is the greatest aphrodisiac. Our Arab friends are proving him wrong. They have the power, and the oil, but they still can’t seem to do without the Houbara. The claim to the greatest aphrodisiac would thus seem to be seriously disputed.
But the Houbara is not just hunted, it is virtually slaughtered. Even if the aphrodisiac claim is accepted, how much potency does anyone need?
Or is it that like we distribute meat on the occasion of the bigger Eid to all and sundry – the choicest portions of course being kept for ourselves – Houbara meat is distributed to near and dear ones, friends and relatives – strictly male, as any fool would understand – when the brave SUV hunter, laden with his bounty, returns to his Gulf abode?
Does the flesh of the Houbara then spread happiness much in the way that the blue pill is supposed to do? But when the blue pill was discovered – or rather its virtues were discovered, for they had set out to create a pill for the heart and only accidentally discovered that its effect on some other regions was more pronounced – it was laboratory-tested, the claims about it thus scientifically ascertained.
How is Houbara-induced happiness measured? What do the hakims say? Or is the evidence for its efficacy merely anecdotal, part of ancient and present desert lore, grizzled and battle-tested elders recounting the virtues of this bird, more magical than the Phoenix, around their winter campfires? Here’s a path-breaking doctoral thesis waiting to be written.
Some of the mist from the strategic horizon should thus clear. If our Arab friends hold us by the economic windpipe, judging by the valued qualities of the Houbara Bustard, we hold them by…the word escapes me. Suffice it to say that we also have important leverage, not that we’ve put a proper value on it. It’s not only that we have sold ourselves cheaply in the geostrategic sweepstakes; we’ve allowed the annual festival of Houbara slaughter, and the aphrodisiac export flowing from it, for not much in return.
So instead of moping let us count our blessings. If our benefactors can visit economic ruin upon us, we also hold a trump card. Imagine the desolation sweeping through extended lines of desert tents if the annual supply of aphrodisiac power is withheld from our side. The Yemen crisis is here today; it will go away, or be resolved, tomorrow. But the kingdom of joy is forever and its requirements are eternal.
Oil has many sources and when it runs dry it is gone. But not every country has a reliable and renewable population of the Houbara Bustard. If we had any sense we would be more careful about this than being worried about oil. Pfizer’s patent on the blue pill has expired (if I understand this correctly, here’s an opportunity for a keen-eyed Pakistani investor). But the patent on the Houbara, if only we conserve its numbers and stop its annual slaughter, is there for the foreseeable future.
Another benefit that might accrue from Gulf anger is harder to put into words but the attempt should be made. Ever since the price of oil quadrupled in 1973 and the Gulf construction and economic boom started, Dubai has been an important destination of dancers and starlets, or let’s call them artistes, associated with Lahore’s ‘pleasure district’, Heera Mandi. The traffic to and fro has been steady, which has been good for Dubai and good for the artistes but a serious cause of inflation in the commodities or the arts which are the particular province of these cultural ambassadors.
Ask aficionados, veterans of these wars. They’ll give you the figures, running way beyond the State Bank’s estimates of inflation…which, in any case, should be taken with fistfuls of salt.
Suppose Dubai were to become really angry – which, incidentally, is unlikely to happen – and a squeeze were put on this Heera Mandi traffic, wouldn’t that work to the general benefit of the situation in Lahore, and indeed other cities, by leading to a downward trend in the going rate of these timeless pursuits? I am not an economics man but this is my layman’s understanding of the situation.
There could also be an aesthetic dividend. Presently, policymakers and real-estate moguls are too much under the influence of Dubai architecture…which accounts for the obsession with flyovers, date palms, signal-free expressways, and the attendant destruction of our inner cities like in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Islamabad is getting the Dubai treatment in the form of the metro-bus and the results are there to see.
The high priest of Pakistan aestheticism is our friend Malik Raiz, the noted philanthropist, and his vision of how things should be begins and ends with Dubai. Maybe if the Yemen crisis turns into an Arab mood of discontent with Pakistan, the attractions of the Dubai model for Pakistani policymakers – and high priests of aestheticism – begin to abate.
But we can’t be that lucky. We’ve already begun to duck and scrape, in a bid to mollify Arab anger. The worst therefore is unlikely to happen. Heera Mandi artistes will continue to find a safe haven in Dubai. The Houbara Bustard will be no safer in winters to come than it was in cruel winters past. The aphrodisiac export contingent upon this slaughter will thus continue, with Pakistan not getting the aphrodisiac dividend it deserves. And there will be no escaping unwanted and tasteless construction, all in the name of development.
Alas, the more things change the more they remain the same.