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Cattle Smugglers Thwart Pious Muslims

Illegal smuggling into Afghanistan has pushed cattle prices so high that many ordinary Muslims will not be able to perform the ritual slaughter during the ‘feast of sacrifice’ this year. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 25 2012 (IPS) - Muslims around the world will soon celebrate Eidul Azha, otherwise known as the ‘feast of the sacrifice’, the second most important festival day on the Islamic calendar.

But this year, scores of Muslims throughout Pakistan will not be able to perform the most sacred rite associated with the festival on Oct. 27 – the sacrifice of cattle – since illegal smuggling to neighbouring Afghanistan has pushed cattle prices to exorbitant levels.

Eidul Azha is celebrated to mark the belief that prophet Muhammad Ibrahim readily accepted God’s command to sacrifice his son Hazrat until God sent down a sheep for him to slaughter instead.

“As Muslim we ought to recall that huge sacrifice by slaughtering an animal,” Muhammad Mustafa, a local school teacher, told IPS.

But cattle prices have almost doubled since last year. As the time for the festival draws near, “demand for animals has risen on both sides of the border,” Mustafa added.

Last year, a buffalo that sold for about 300 dollars is today not even available for 500 dollars.

Since cattle breeders earn more from smuggling the animals to Afghanistan than they would if they sold the animals locally, the illegal trade is flourishing.

Pakistan currently has a surplus of 2.23 million cattle, which had hitherto been earmarked for export to Afghanistan, since the latter had zero local production of animals last year – a lingering impact of the 1979 Russian invasion and subsequent conflict that has decimated many industries.

Livestock director for the north western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Muhammad Sultan, told IPS that close to 10,000 animals are illegally exported to Afghanistan every month, which has also forced up the prices of milk and poultry.k

On Jul. 23, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) suspended all export permits issued by the federal government and ordered the confiscation of cattle destined for Afghanistan, in a bid to protect local consumers.

Since 1979, “Afghanistan (has been) totally dependent on Pakistan for food and other basic needs but the court’s ban on transportation of cattle and poultry to Afghanistan worked to some extent,” Muhammad Khan, a Peshawar-based trader told IPS.

According to Khan, local businessmen are the main beneficiaries of this trade, which travels along the 2,400-kilometre-long porous border.

“The higher prices are hampering people’s ability to slaughter animals during the festival. The PHC order (created) some obstacles to the practice but the business continues because it is so profitable,” Khan said.

A change in tradition

Over 10,000 animals are smuggled out of Pakistan into neighbouring Afghanistan every month. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Locals here told IPS they roamed animal markets pointlessly last week but were forced to return home empty-handed because no one could afford the sky-high prices.

Zubair Shah, a civil servant, told IPS he has visited numerous markets over the last three days to purchase a sheep or a goat but the prices are such that he won’t be able to slaughter an animal this Eid.

“This is shocking for my family. Every year for the past decade we have slaughtered an animal (and donated) two-thirds of the meat to poor people. It seems that this year we will be getting meat or mutton from someone else,” he said.

He is not alone in his plight. Others, like the mechanic Gul Meer, have taken loans to buy cattle for 40 percent more than they paid last year.

“Even if it means I have to sell my wife’s gold ornaments, I will buy an animal for this is the only way to win Allah’s pleasure,” Mustafa vowed.

Meer believes the problem has been prolonged by the Pakistan government’s failure to impose harsh penalties on traders who continue to flout the smuggling ban.

The government has already seized 33,000 kilogrammes of illegal meat since the ban was imposed three months ago.

“We have also confiscated 800 animals, including oxen, buffalo, sheep and goats from smugglers near border areas to control the prices and (protect) local consumers so they can acquire an animal to sacrifice on Eidul Azha,” Sultan told IPS.

Government efforts to clamp down on the practice have yielded some results. Prices of poultry have come down, according to Sultan.

“Before the ban, one kilogramme of chicken cost six dollars, but the price has now come down to four dollars after the court’s directives,” he said.

Still, the province continues to face deficits in milk and poultry products.

Ayub Sattar, a mason on University Road, says that prices have always been high during the festival time, but this year has been exceptionally hard.

“Last year we (could get) a sheep for 150 dollars. A sheep of the same size now sells for 250 dollars, far out of my price range,” he told IPS.

Some people have decided to pool their resources and purchase oxen, camels and buffaloes communally, with plans to share the meat between their families.

“This year (we bought) cattle for 520 dollars in the market when last year we paid 380 dollars for the same animal,” Liaqat Ali, who is sharing an animal with five others this year, told IPS.

Dr. Tariq Ali, a veterinarian in Peshawar, told IPS that Pakistanis usually slaughter between five and six million animals at this time of year.

“Farmers in neighbouring Afghanistan will remain dependent on Pakistan’s animals and poultry in the future too. Therefore, it’s up to the government (here) to stop this illegal trade and allow the transportation only of surplus animals via legal routes,” he stressed.


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