Open season

November 15, 2012


-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

The hunting season has arrived in the tourist-deprived country. When migratory birds start arriving, the princes of the Arab world come to their favourite hunting spot, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to fulfill their passion for hunting. We always imagine a young, charming personality when we think of a prince. But it is best if we don’t speak of these princes. They are as old as 70 years, biding their time until the king dies. Just like our generals remain generals unless they become presidents or chief executives.

Our country has countless hunting spots: deserts, forests, wildernesses, as well as large cities. But when seasons change, the winds become chilly and show signs of approaching winter, the migratory birds turn southwards. Then herds of innocent birds begin landing here while the sheikhs also begin to arrive with their entire caravans. Then the roads are full of the sheikhs’ caravans instead of those of the military.

This time we were surrounded by unseasonal rains and floods while we hear about the famine in Thar. The seasons are changing. No one knows when spring or autumn arrive anymore. But there is one season that stays the same all year round in our country: the hunting season. Some people spend the entire year hunting and arranging for others to hunt. Many are dependent on it for their contacts and even their futures. From the uniformed ones to the non-uniformed ones, all are guests at the hunting camps of the ever hospitable hosts. Be it Ayub, Yahya, Zia or Musharraf, all of them have been their guests and adorning one’s guest with an ajrak and a topi has always been a tradition.

Once the migratory birds arrive, the Arab princes leave their deserts to come and set camp on our deserts. By the way, our country prohibits hunting like it prohibits so many other things, but you know well the definition of prohibition used here. So, the Arab princes come here as the guests of the Foreign Ministry, while other hunting enthusiasts have to go to the wildlife department. Areas have been allotted across the country according to the princes’ respective temperaments and likings. God forbid if the Saudi prince’s area is given to the prince from Gulf, not only will the free oil go but there will be the princes’ resentment to endure. They already know how to keep leaders (whether in or out of the government) happy.

These migratory birds not only migrate to Pakistan but also to Afghanistan and Iran. But after 1970, when Iran wore the turban and Afghanistan was turned into a battlefield, our country became the only secure, cheap and profitable alternative for Arab princes. It is the country whose leaders can only be easily pleased by presents. Even if what the princes say in Arabic isn’t particularly “holy”, the faith of us poor believers is always enlivened when we hear the language.

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

The wilderness, deserts and forests are all being decorated anew. If you wish to see a carnival in the jungle, this is your chance! You will see these hunting enthusiasts, the sheikhs with their huge armies, hunting experts and security guards. I had the opportunity to visit such a camp in Thar once where I was lucky enough to meet a sharpshooting expert. Nowadays, most sharpshooters are normally found in Karachi but the one I met was part of Sheikh Sahab’s entourage and hailed from Kerala - jobs can take us to places that are so different from each other. Now, most sheikhs have erected palaces in their favourite hunting spots. They have hired locals for their expertise in other kinds of arrangements too. Whatever is asked for is provided.

Incidentally, the coming of the hunting season before the election season is a good omen for those who aim to enjoy the luxuries of power without getting any votes. They have gained success in the past on the pretext of hunting. But this time, it seems like the elections will be held on time which is why the permits for hunting are being handed out. Those who hunt without permits are watching the judiciary and the uniforms and waiting, just in case there is some ray of hope somewhere.

-Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro

The birds are the rays of hope; unfortunately they are also the targets. Similarly, the entire world is in a state of migration without seasons being an excuse. The borders are drawn and redrawn not only on land but also in people’s hearts and minds. These migratory birds cannot be stopped by man-made borders. Neither do they think about the Arab princes who lie in wait for them along with their expert sharpshooters to shoot them down when they land. Yet, they still always come and get gunned down.

These “lovers” of the houbara bustard have already extinguished the species from their countries. The rest of the world has prohibited hunting them down, we too have signed a treaty; a treaty we are not bound to, like the many others. The Arabs are our friends who have always helped us in times of trouble, the least we can do for them is break the law. Such is the nature of our friendship. Whoever is in power or out of it remains incomplete without the Arabs’ “hand of compassion” over him.

Look at our Mian Sahab. He returned as a sheikh after 8-10 years. The only thing he doesn’t do is hunt but still possesses the same grandiloquence as an Arab prince. On one hand, there are floods occurring in Sindh due to unseasonal rains, whereas Mian Sahab is responsible for the other flood. Just think, PML-N’s advertisements are being published with “Jeay Sindh, Sada Jeay!”. I could hardly believe my eyes. Sindh has lived and will continue to live. But what has Mian Sahab gotten himself involved in? Here, everyone has left their principles and ideologies in the mud and are pledging allegiance to PML-F’s Pir Sahab, saying that a new star is going to rise in Sindh. Seems more like a new pir is to be brought in competition against the urban one.

Hunting spots across Pakistan have either become too small or too few to cater to the hunters’ needs. So now they have moved into Pakistan’s cities to satiate this need. They seem intent on turning our cities into new hunting grounds. The city whose streets used to be washed with water every evening before Pakistan was created is now being bathed in blood instead. This hunting season will last three months and I hope to God it really does end in three months. The migratory birds will leave and so will the Arab princes. But we refuse to let go of the hope that after the hunting season, the elections season will also come. One can only wait and wonder if this time, the hunter will become the hunted.


The author has dabbled in every form of the visual arts. An activist to the core, Abro’s work deals with social themes and issues ranging from human rights to dictatorial regimes. He is currently working for DAWN as an illustrator.