The federal government has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider a ban on hunting the critically endangered Houbara Bustard by foreign dignitaries. It claimed that the restriction was adversely affecting the country’s already-weakened relations with the Gulf states in the wake of turmoil in the region.
“The petition involved a question of fundamental importance having direct bearing upon foreign relations of the federation with the Gulf states,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pleaded in a petition seeking a review of the Aug 19 verdict.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by then Chief Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, had ordered the federal and provincial governments not to grant licences or permits to hunt the endangered bird in the future.
But the federal government argued that the matter concerned the country’s external affairs, matters the superior courts usually avoided interfering with.
The review petition pleaded that falconry is a significant feature of Pakistan’s relations with Middle Eastern countries. Falconry is not merely a sport for Arabs, but also one of their most cherished customs and recognised as a cultural heritage by Unesco.
For over four decades, the petition recalled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been extending invitations to Arab dignitaries for the sustainable hunting of the houbara bustard through falconry, in view of Pakistan’s strong fraternal and diplomatic relations with Gulf countries. The permits were issued following a strict code of conduct issued by the Foreign Ministry.
Since inviting Arab dignitaries to hunt in Pakistan was a “cornerstone of foreign policy”, in continuance of past practice, foreign dignitaries were invited to Pakistan for the 2014-2015 hunting season.
The petition contended that under the provincial wildlife laws of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the respective provincial governments have statutory power to remove any category of wildlife from the schedule of protected animals.
In Balochistan, the houbara bustard is a game animal under the Balochistan Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act 2014 and the hunting of this species is permissible under the law, subject to certain conditions.
By placing a complete ban on the hunting of the houbara bustard, the Supreme Court had travelled beyond the scope of law since the vires of provincial wildlife laws were admittedly never in question. Besides, none of the provisions of these laws were struck down by the court for being unconstitutional, the review said.
Moreover to determine the actual population of the bird was a complex task that required concerted efforts. Since the houbara bustard, the review explained, was a migratory bird and extends its reach from Egypt to Mongolia and China.
It is a well established principle that the protection of conservation of wildlife species in its natural habitat can only be achieved through the sustainable use of natural resources, the petition said, adding that International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognised that the economies, cultures and well being of all human societies depend on the use of biodiversity, rather than constructing artificial distinction between people and nature.
The sustainable use of natural resources as defined by IUCN clearly demonstrates that sustainable use of wildlife is central to its preservation and protection. By placing a complete ban, the apex court has negated well-settled norms of the world community for the sustainable use of natural resources.
Moreover, the foreign dignitaries brought with them considerable finances which were exclusively used for the development of the people in the areas where they hunted. Locals are also persuaded to arrangement for the breeding of the species and, often, a large number of the birds are released.