Arab royalty and clans descend on Pakistan to hunt the Houbara Bustard.

The case of the Houbara Bustard in Pakistan is rather curious. A migratory bird, Pakistanis are not allowed to hunt them. However, members of the various ruling Arab clans can. They are issued permits every year to hunt for the bird — that is on the vulnerable list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature — and also allowed use of a military airbase in the Shamsi desert of Balochsitan to jet in and jet out without having to transit through the other airports of the country.

Yes, the very Shamsi airbase from where the Americans were thrown out late last year. In 1992, the federal government leased the out-of-use Bhandari airstrip to UAE for game hunting; primarily catch the Houbara Bustard for the fabled aphrodisiac qualities of its meat though this has never been scientifically proven. The UAE turned it into a jet capable airstrip and renamed it Shamsi which was in turn leased out to the U.S. with the tacit approval of the Musharraf regime for launching attacks inside Afghanistan.

This season, 25 permits have been issued and nearly half of them have gone to deep pockets from UAE. According to those in the know of what goes on in the remote desert areas where the Houbara Bustard can be found, the list includes the rulers of Qatar and UAE. Valid for 10 days, each permit holder is allowed to hunt only 100 birds through falconry.

Every permit holder is allocated a certain area frequented by the Houbara Bustard. The terrain stretches across Sindh, South Punjab and Balochistan. And, the irony is that some of the areas in Balochistan remain inaccessible for the average Pakistani due to the security situation but the Arab sheikhs manage to access them with their huge entourages; a case in point being Turbat where the Petroleum Minister from Qatar was robbed but the matter hush-hushed.


Egypt’s graffiti warriors

Hosni Mobarak may be gone, but the generals are still there and the uprising is not over yet.

Egypt’s cyber-warriors and graffiti artists continue to work feverishly to keep alive the flame of the revolution, which their formidable rivals hope to extinguish using brute force, blind terror and a ceaseless propaganda barrage.

Yet, the country’s gifted young activists are not giving up — using street art and the Internet to beat back their rather unimaginative and leaden footed tormentors. Their latest riposte to the authorities trying to stifle dissent has hit cyberspace in the form of a graffiti image of young Anas — a 14-year-old who died during a recent bloodbath at a football stadium at Port Said. The portrait of Anas has a caption that reads: “Either we bring them justice, or we die like them” This stencil was posted online, allowing supporters to print it and spray paint the image on their bodies.

The carnage at the football stadium, which left 74 people dead, was apparently the result of a clash between supporters of two rival football clubs. But suspicions are rife in Egypt that the country’s security forces had either masterminded or abetted the riot, whose victims were mostly supporters of the Al Ahly club, known for their raucous anti-establishment protestations at Tahrir Square.

One of the artists who has portrayed the horrific violence at Port Said as a major episode during the course of Egypt’s unfinished revolution is Mohamed Fahmy, known by his pseudonym Ganzeer. Mr. Fahmy is one among the several Graffiti artists whose creative outbursts, long suppressed during the bygone era of the Hosni Mubarak presidency, saw in the walls, buildings, bridges and sidewalks, a canvas to paint denunciations of the generals who have replaced the former autocrat.

Unsurprisingly, Egypt’s military rulers, who have become enduring targets of the graffiti artists, have taken umbrage to their derisive pronouncements. As a result, street art denouncing the military has a short life span before it is defaced, on orders of the authorities, with black spray paint. But the battle for anti-establishment artistic expression in public spaces has remained uninterrupted, with new images surfacing as soon as spray guns of the officialdom silence the ones before.


Bike it, Boat it

Commuting can get interesting in an archipelago of 1,200 islands.

How do you commute in a country like The Maldives, an archipelago of about 1200 islands, where the biggest island is only a few square kilometres?

“Take your transport along in a boat or whatever,” is the answer one expatriate professional came up with. The locals looked in surprise at the question — well, they have not thought about it at all. It’s their way of life.

Many ferries out of Male, the Maldivian capital, have provisions to park bikes. One of the most popular routes is the Male Island to Hulhumale route. Hulhumale is an artificial island, about half an hour from Male by a passenger ferry. The island is much bigger than Male, and those who find it difficult to afford Male, stay in Hulhumale, where housing rents are considerably lower. And, many of them take the ride-on, ride-off route to work. It costs seven Ruffiya for the bike to be taken across one-way, but no one is complaining!