The Gulf royals who went footloose in their favourite bird hunting grounds in Pakistan's restive Balochistan region were met with shocking resistance from the locals and eventually saved their lives by hanging in by the skin of their teeth.
The high royals led by a senior member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family were attacked by gunmen when they were hunting rare Houbara bustards in its southern plains of Balochistan.
Every year Pakistan offers dozens of permits to the ultra wealthy Arab princes from the Middle East monarchies. The local Baloch people who hold the view that they are under illegal occupation by Pakistan have resisted the move historically, leading to a court ban on hunting permits. However, the Pakistani government earned a Supreme Court verdict last year that allowed them to resume permits for the Gulf princes. The government argued in court that hunting permits for the influential royal family members from Gulf emirates help build better diplomatic ties.
The Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) which claimed the attack against the royals led by Abu Dhabi ruling family member Prince Saif bin Zayd al-Nahyan, said they had issued warnings against bustard hunting in the region.
The Houbara bustards migrate in their thousands to Pakistan from Central Asia during the winter. Its meat is considered a potent aphrodisiac by the wealthy Arabs. Though the Pak government sets an upper hunting limit of 100 bustards in a span of ten days, the Arab shooters far exceed the limits often. In 2014, a leaked government document had revealed that a single Saudi Arabian prince had shot more than 2,000 bustards in three weeks.
The bustards are categorised as "vulnerable" species at high risk of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A BBC report earlier this year said there are only about 50,000--100,000 birds of the reare breed left in the world.
The hunting party was attacked in the remote hilly tracts in Gichk area, some 90km (55 miles) south of Panjgur, BBC reported. "Some men on motorbikes caught up with them, stopped the vehicle, asked the Arabs to get off, and then fired gunshots into the vehicle, shattering its windows and flattening its tyres," a Pakistani official was quoted as saying.
The BLF said they let off the Arabs unharmed as they valued the historical ties between the peoples. "Our fighters let the sheikhs go unharmed in view of our ancient mutual links and values and in the hope that in future they won't obtain lease of any area of Balochistan for hunting from the occupying country, Pakistan," a BLF statement said as they claimed the attack.
Skirmishes have taken place in the past over bird bunting by the Arabs. Last month the Baloch rebels repulsed an Arab hunting party accompanied by Pak officials, In 2013, shots had been fired at the Gulf royals hunting in the area.