The lion’s share- Masood Hasan

Having had the lion’s share for nine years, not to mention the many other years of great pomp that comes with reaching the top echelons of service for the cause of the country, the former president has had a hard time saying goodbye to all that glory. There is a time that is allocated to some men and women of good fortune and even better sense to say adieu and move into the shadows, having done your bit, good or bad. But only those blessed with an inner light recognise that time and that moment. The rank and file of the great generals, the seasoned bureaucrats and the suave politicians fail to grasp that moment and cling on perilously and without shame. In the end, the inevitable happens and finger by finger they are made to relinquish their hold on power. As he swoons to the lilting voice of the maestro Mohammad Rafi and that old song about flying away from a land that no longer wants you, he can perhaps bask in the fading light of another golden sunset, convinced that he was the best thing that ever happened to Pakistan. After all, as he reminded us, we can now frolic and picnic to our heart’s content at the last resting place of Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah. What more can a man do for his country?

Elsewhere, too, lions of established pedigree have been making news. Details have emerged, thanks to just one newspaper (sadly not this one) that merry hell has been reigning in Karachi with or without the connivance of the SWD – Sindh Wildlife Department, the Pakistan Customs, the Karachi Airport authorities, the National Council for the Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW), and crafty, unscrupulous and greedy individuals and companies which have been importing prized and often endangered species with forged documents, plenty of money to grease outstretched palms, all with the intention of making a killing in this banned trade.

The imported animals largely comprising royal Bengal tigers, lions and leopards are flown into Karachi airport from South Africa, the Czech Republic and undoubtedly other countries too. The papers are forged through and through, large sums of money changes hands with surely Karachi Customs fully involved – the big cats being slightly larger than a toothbrush – and then taken out and sold to the nouveau riche, the Beamer-Porsche-Lexus crowd who think nothing of keeping these priceless animals in their homes or expansive gardens. The whole sordid business can be read in Dawn’s May 12 issue. The company that was indicted in two cases when the NCCW intervened has offices in Defence, Karachi.

The matter came to light only because the CITES Secretariat, the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, approached Pakistan for dodgy documents issued by our NCCW. Once this was confirmed, the consignment was intercepted at Karachi airport. However, the “traffickers,” with solid connections in the right places, retrieved the animals since they were meant for their “research centre.” In spite of loud protests from the NCCW and SWD, the animals were handed over to the crooks and not returned to their country of origin, which is still demanding their return. An FIR was registered and for a “heavy” fine of Rs103,200 the company went scot-free.

The same company also smuggled in six lions with illegal papers for its “research centre” off the Super Highway, with or without the connivance of all parties concerned. Another FIR was registered and another princely sum of Rs241,800 was recovered. For six lions that comes to Rs40,300, less than what you would pay for a pedigreed dog from the UK. For a lion, that’s simply outrageous, but because crime pays so well, the importers with their fake research centre got away clean, yet again. “Research” on lions in a country where they are still battling polio is a laughable notion, except that this is a heinous crime and as usual the criminals are free to carry on.

In two other cases, a company peddling zoological supplies brought in five tigers and four lions, and another, two tigers and three lions from the Czech Republic and without the right papers sailed straight through obliging Karachi Customs last June. When the media broke the story, the SWD, fast asleep, registered cases and the matter arrived in the courts. Both companies are owned and operated by the same person with offices in Federal B Area, but don’t worry, no one will be caught and sent to jail or the poor smuggled animals returned. Since you can’t have enough of a good thing, another enterprising Pakistani smuggled in – of course without any legit paperwork – three tigers, a lion and a leopard. Even when caught, they pulled strings, made a few phone calls, spread a little largesse around and walked away into the sunset with their catch. Good business, wouldn’t you say?

It is not rocket science or the Chief Justice’s eternally complex case that one cannot make out what is happening. The SWD is at best asleep and powerless and at worst, fully involved in a business which it was set up to prevent, among its other duties. Why a full-fledged enquiry has not been initiated when there is so much evidence is of course not really a mystery. Likewise, the grand titled National Council for the Conservation of Wildlife, a federal body, is guilty on many counts, like the SWD. The Karachi Customs has surely got its hands in the cookie jar and such audacious daylight violation of all rules cannot happen unless they are on the take. It is the media once again which has had to step in but when are ostensibly responsible bodies going to wake up and do their jobs? Maybe never it seems. And then there are the rich, the powerful and the well-connected lords of the land without whose deep interest in procuring such animals for their private zoos and farmhouses, there would be no supply. Why are they not being brought to book? Why are their names not being made public? After all many powerful VIPs are constantly being brought to public attention when their shoddy deals are exposed. Who are the tiger, lion and leopard owners that they cannot be identified? What are the SWD and NCCW scared of? To narrate an incident from the newspaper reports, the residents of the PECHS in Karachi were petrified the other day to see two lions roaming the streets. These were “pets” that had escaped from a residence right in the heart of the PECHS. With panic and alarm spreading like wildfire, the Zoo and police somehow captured the animals, and although the SWD registered a case, the animals were still handed over to their owners!

Maybe Pakistan has many more important things to worry about, but unless things like this are also attended to, we will continue to jolt about from one thing to another. We cannot seem to do anything about our economy or the political musical chairs being played out, but perhaps we can start with stamping out this terrible business. And since we are talking of lion’s share and all that, it is nice to know that following the former president’s illegal 2007 action, Rs37.7 million were handed over to 26 lawyers, of which Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Advocate General Malik Abdul Qayyum, Wasim Sajjad and Khalid Ranja pocketed a cool Rs24.9 million. Not bad business at all.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

Source: The News, 24/8/2008

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