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Shamsi / Bandari

The small Shamsi airstrip is located near the bleak town of Washki in southwestern Pakistan, near the convergence of the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. On 20 October 2001 Pakistan agreed to allow American forces to use Shamsi, which had been built for wealthy Saudi sheiks who indulged in falconry there. The Shamsi airfield was originally built by Arab sheikhs for falconry expeditions in the southwestern province of Baluchistan Construction was financed by Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), and completed by Husnain Cotex Ltd (HCL) as of 31 December 1988. In 1967, the founder Chairman Haji Mohammad Yousaf Sheikh started pursuing construction business. Being single headed, he proceeded to get construction works on the infrastructure side under the name of Husnain Construction Company. The initial teething problems and the throat cut competition however could not refrain him moving forward.

The United States had used Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's Balochistan province to station unmanned Predator drones used to attack terrorist targets inside the country's tribal areas. An unnamed senior US official told Fox News February 20, 2009 that the US was launching Predator UAV strikes from at least one base in Pakistan. The confirmation contradicted previous denials from officials. This confirmed a statement made by California Democrat Senate intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein that riled intelligence circles because she seemed to reveal sensitive information about the Pakistan-based staging ground during.

A Google Earth image from 2006 shows three US drones at the airbase as early as 2006 at the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles southwest of Quetta and about 87 kilometres from Kharan in Balochistan. US special forces used the airbase during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistani government said in 2006 that the Americans had left and both sides since denied repeatedly that the US was using Pakistani bases. The first photo from 2006 in Google Earth has now disappeared, with a new picture which doesn't show the Predator.

Saudi princes hunt a fabled bird, the houbara bustard, with falcons in Pakistan, because they've hunted the houbara to near-extinction in their own land. The fabulously wealthy Saudis hunt now from specially modified Mercedes instead of the camels of their forefathers. Saudi expeditions to hunt desert birds such as the houbara bustard can be giant in scale if the royal family is involved, involving 150 falcons and costing a staggering $20m (13.6m) per trip. The Houbara is listed under a convention on migratory species of wild animals known as the Bonn Convention. The World Conservation Union has declared it as endangered species. The hubara is a large bird and, while slower than a falcon, is maneuverable in flight and goes to ground readily, making it difficult for the falcon to follow. The bustard, hubara is the traditional quarry of the falcons, as well as the desert hare, arnab, but few of either are found in Qatar and smaller wild birds have to be relied on in addition to the pigeons.

With the arrival of the houbara, scores of Middle Eastern potentates - Presidents, ambassadors, ministers, generals, governors - descend in fleets of private planes. They come armed with computers and radar, hundreds of servants and other staff, customized weapons, and priceless falcons, which are used to hunt the bird. The Foreign Ministry awarded dozens of special permits to Arab dignitaries to hunt the bird each year, despite the fact that Pakistanis have been prohibited from killing the houbara since 1972.

The federal government has issued houbara bustard hunting permits to 31 members of the ruling families of four Arabian Gulf states for the 2007-08 hunting season. According to sources, nine such permits have been issued to the ruling family of Qatar, and another ten to UAE rulers, five of Dubai and five of Abu Dhabi. Seven members of the Saudi ruling family and five of Bahrain have also received the permit from the ministry of foreign affairs. The permits are person-specific, each with a bag limit of 200 birds, and forbid the trapping and netting of the bird and poaching of chicks and eggs.

Falconry is the sport of taking wildlife by means of a trained raptor. Falconry was first practiced in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, as early as 2000 BC and later developed in Persia, India, China, Korea, and Japan. The Romans introduced falconry, also known as hawking, throughout Europe and Great Britain, where both royalty and commoners practiced it widely during the Middle Ages. Social class determined raptor ownership: Only kings could fly gyrfalcons, the largest of all falcons; earls and dukes owned peregrines; yeomen used goshawks; and peasants were restricted to kestrels.

The sport of hunting game with trained falcons and other hawks acquired great sophistication in the medieval Islamic world, where instructional manuals were written. Falconers commonly appeared among the princely pleasures represented in the decoration of Islamic objects intended for secular use. During the Crusades, falconry was introduced in Europe, where it flourished among the privileged classes. Among the famous British and European royals who flew falcons were Mary, Queen of Scotts, King Charlemagne, and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Falconry's popularity began to decline in the 17th century, after the invention of firearms provided a more efficient way to kill game.

This is no sport for dilettantes. Falconry requires extensive training, constant practice, and an almost fanatical dedication to the birds. Falconry is a huge investment. Especially in time. It can take years before someone with a budding interest in the sport can actually own, then hunt with, a bird of prey. Falconry is not just a sport. It's more a complete and all-consuming lifestyle. Part of the sport's appeal is its heritage, which includes terminology, training methods, and certain gear that have remained basically unchanged for thousands of years.

A bird taken from the nest before it can fly is trained to kill selected quarry by being hooded and fed fresh meat while tied to a board or block. It is then carried on a heavily gloved wrist several hours a day, stroked with a feather, and fed. When it will eat from the wrist without a hood, it is trained to attack a baited lure, so that the bird will learn to kill the quarry in the air or bring it to the ground, piercing the vital organs with its talons.

Hunting with falcons is a spectator sport in which the raptor does most of the work. When the hunt begins, a falcon is released to circle in the sky hundreds of feet above the falconer, who often uses hunting dogs to locate and flush game birds. Once the falcon spots the quarry, it drops from the sky in a "stoop" at breathtaking speed-up to 200 miles per hour for a peregrine or gyrfalcon. Falcons kill some birds by striking the head or body with open talons. They kill others by flying in a J-pattern and coming up underneath the quarry, grabbing the belly and pulling the bird to the ground before finishing it off with a bite to the spine. When hunting with a hawk, falconers generally carry the bird on their fist, protected from the talons by a thick leather glove, called a gauntlet. To keep the hawk calm, its head is covered by a stiff leather hood. When a rabbit, squirrel, or game bird is spotted, the hood is removed and the hawk jets after the quarry. Sometimes a hawk is allowed to follow the handler by perching in treetops or on power poles until the quarry is spotted. Harris's hawks often are hunted in pairs from atop a 10-foot-tall, T-shaped perch the handler carries while walking in the field. To locate their raptors from a distance, falconers attach small bells or lightweight radio transmitters to the birds' legs. After the kill, a trained raptor returns to the handler's glove or perch or stays with the dead prey until it is retrieved. Raptors are generally not allowed to eat their prey other than the head and neck.

The Houbara Bustard is facing increasing threat of extinction due to excessive hunting, poaching and encroachments on its habitat. This migratory bird arrives every year in Pakistan in November and December from Mongolia, Siberia and central Asian republics. This desert bird migrates to Pakistan in winter and leaves in April and May. According to experts, its population is rapidly declining in Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, the UAE, Maracoo, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian republics due to excessive hunting, poaching and onslaughts on its habitats.

The falcons are trained to hunt Houbara Bustards, a large bird known for its delicate red meat, according to the falconers. Arabs eat the houbara for sexual purposes - they think it's an aphrodisiac, though it has been scientifically proven to be a mild diuretic.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:40:01 ZULU