April 22, 2022

By Xari Jalil

It is ridiculous how much the Nazim Jokhio case has been manipulated. The ray of hope if any is that civil society is not letting the matter go, even as Jokhio’s widow is being silenced. The privilege and impunity enjoyed by the accused – especially as they are politically aligned with the PPP, is being criticized and condemned everywhere. But today, on Earth Day, we look at it from the angle less mentioned: that Jokhio is in fact a victim of an (international) environmental crime.

Lest we forget, Nazim Jokhio raised his voice over the illegal killing of endangered houbara bustards or ‘tilor’ as they are locally known. Some foreign guests of the PPP lawmakers were hunting the birds in the wrong area, and Nazim and his brother Afzal Jokhio had stumbled upon them while they were out surveying fields in their Achaar Salaar village in Thatta.

But when they told them to hunt in the proper hunting district, and not there, they were met with rude confrontation. Nazim’s courage and honesty signed his own death certificate when he whipped out his phone and filmed the hunting party’s abusive actions. He later added another video where he said he was being threatened and pressured to delete the original video.

A day later, he was called to the PPP lawmakers’ farmhouse and was tortured in the presence of his brother. Later Afzal was asked to come and collect his body; his clothes and personal belongings were found in a dry well nearby.

Nazim is not the first victim for raising his voice against environmental injustice. There was Baba Jan too, whose courage cost him 10 precious years of his life, as he was imprisoned on false charges.

In 2010, Baba Jan led protests representing the demands of Gojal Valley residents (Hunza), who had suffered immensely following government plans to rebuild the Karakoram Highway to restore the flow of trade from the Chinese border. But this careless plan of restoration caused the crumbling of the mountain which blocked the Hunza River, and subsequent floods drowned several villages. Even today, these villages are at the bottom of the newly created ‘Attabad Lake’ or ‘Gojal Lake’. For demanding compensation on behalf of the survivors of this environmental tragedy, Baba Jan and 11 others were sent to prison.

But Baba Jan has now been released. Nazim Jokhio’s punishment was far worse as he was tortured to death by entitled and powerful individuals, as he tried to help protect the hunted bird.

The houbara bustard, a Central Asian desert bird, migrates to Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan during the winters, and under the IUCN it has been categorized as “vulnerable”. While at one time the birds thrived in the Arabian Peninsula, IUCN records its dwindling population as 42,000.

Foreigners and locals both must have hunting permits according to season, but the fact is, conditions have always been relaxed for guests from abroad. It does not matter whether Pakistan gains or loses; what matters is pleasing foreign guests who hunt for enjoyment and for the bird’s meat as an aphrodisiac. There are many who disapprove of these welcoming gestures by Pakistan, but those in power believe that such hunting sprees are good for better relations, or soft diplomacy, especially as the country relies on loans from Arab countries.

In fact, it has been known that even when hunting the birds was banned, the government kept on issuing special permits to allow sheikhs and their friends to hunt the birds.

In 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered a total ban on the hunting of houbara bustards, and directed the implementation of international conventions on conservation. But after the government asked the court to review the ban, saying it harmed relations with Arab states, in January 2016 the Supreme Court lifted the ban. The argument was that the wealthy sheikhs brought in investment to the under-developed areas in the hunting fields.

The unfortunate part is, that decades of such sprees – both with and without legally obtained permits – have not made much difference to any of the underdeveloped areas. If anything these areas have been taken advantage of for their environment and ecosystem but never made inhabitable for those who dwell there.

It is widely agreed upon that that when greed in any form becomes dominant, and when natural resources and wildlife are abused and ravaged endlessly, there will also be unfolding ecological disaster. We are not sure of the exact repercussions of the “legal extinction” of an endangered bird. But we as a country have certainly not planned on what we must dissuade from doing at the expense of communities.

While natural disasters are occurring throughout the world, developing countries like ours are bearing the brunt of global climate disasters, including floods, heatwaves, drought, and famine.

Nazim Jokhio’s righteous anger may just have stemmed from the fact that these rich foreign guests swoop down like their own hunting falcons, to exploit these areas, leaving little behind besides death and destruction. Whatever little ‘development’ seen in these areas is that of concretization or urbanization of land where residential societies are made to cater to the moneyed classes.

But for the Nazim Jokhios of our land, there is nothing, not even justice.


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