In a mysterious development, the importer of the Australian sheep, who had earlier sought a stay order from the Sindh High Court (SHC) against the culling of over 21,000 animals at his farm, decided to withdraw his case on Thursday.
The importer, Tariq Mehmood Butt, who purchased the livestock, had challenged the report of the Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre, which was the basis on which authorities ordered the culling of his sheep.
The petitioner, who purchased a consignment of sheep that had been rejected by the Bahrain government in August, contended that the animals were healthy and he prayed that the court restrain government functionaries from harassing or arresting him in the case. Around 8,000 sheep had already been culled by the time the SHC intervened.
The government confirmed through the Pakistani Embassy in Bahrain that the kingdom had rejected the consignment of livestock after Orf disease was detected in the animals.
The petitioner counsel, Adnan Memon, in a surprising move, submitted before the SHC’s division bench, headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar, that his client had asked him to withdraw the case without mentioning any specific reasons.
When asked if there was any form of a threat from the authorities, the lawyer simply replied that he was given clear instructions from the petitioner to withdraw the case. Neither the counsels of the Australian exporter nor the federal and provincial governments opposed the application.
The court, after taking the statement of the petitioner’s counsel on record, dismissed the case along with the listed application. However, it directed the provincial government, IG Sindh, DG Rangers and the chief secretary to ensure that no harm was caused to Tariq Mehmood Butt and that the petitioner, along with his family, were provided with adequate security.
Although an internationally acclaimed laboratory did not find the presence of antibodies to Bluetongue, PPR and FMD viruses in the samples that were sent for testing and declared the sheep fit for human consumption, there was still some controversy surrounding the conflicting reports of the federal and provincial laboratories.
Following the withdrawal of the petition from the SHC, now the fate of more than 11,000 lies in the hands of the concerned authorities, who would decide whether the animals would be culled as per the previous order or the importer may be allowed to slaughter the livestock for export or other purposes.
Out of court settlement
After battling for weeks over the fate of the Australian sheep, the importer of the animals and provincial authorities managed to settle their differences out of court. The importer, Tariq Mehmood Butt, was assured that the government would allow the PK Livestock Company to slaughter the animals and export the meat.
Neither the importer nor officials of the Sindh Livestock Department were available to comment on the matter, but sources close to both sides said that backdoor diplomacy and pressure tactics convinced Butt to settle the matter out of court.
Meanwhile, the Australian High Commission in Islamabad confirmed the settlement and welcomed the resolution of the case that had aroused much controversy. It added that the remaining sheep, approximately 11,000 of them, would now be processed as intended.
After the settlement, the importer withdrew his case, citing unavoidable circumstances. It was learnt that under the agreement, neither the importer nor the Australian exporter, Wellard Rural Exports, would file a case against the government or seek damages in any court of law. In return, the importer would be left alone to continue with his business.
The sources said that the authorities tried to flex their muscles on Wednesday by sending the Malir Development Authority (MDA) to demolish the farm in Razzaqabad, its abattoir and food processing factory. However, locals of the area, many of whom depended on the farm for their livelihood, stood firm and the officials were forced to retreat without damaging the property.
They claimed that the move was enough to intimidate Tariq Mehmood Butt into cutting a deal with the provincial government. The sources said that the importer, apart from the investment on the premises, had a 99-year lease on the property.
At the same time, the Australian government, through its high commission in Islamabad, helped both sides reach an agreement. The country’s government had earlier threatened to suspend trade ties with Pakistan over the sheep debacle.
Tariq Mehmood Butt, while talking to The News, confessed that being a businessman, he could not afford to contest court cases and decided to withdraw his petition.
“I approached the court to halt the merciless killing of the sheep. Once the culling was stopped and a foreign lab proved that the livestock was of disease-free, it was enough for me” he added.
Despite repeated queries, he did not utter a word about the deal, but confirmed that the sheep would be slaughtered and exported, as was originally intended.
Meanwhile, the Australian High Commissioner, Peter Heyward, was satisfied that the sheep had been declared free of all diseases.
“I am pleased that the position of the Australian Government, Wellard Rural Exports, and PK Livestock on the health of the sheep has been verified. It is unfortunate that this fact was established after around 8,000 of the flock were culled at a great cost to the importer,” said the high commissioner.
“Australia is a world-renowned exporter of agricultural products and livestock. We take health and welfare issues extremely seriously in this trade. I am pleased that Australia’s excellent reputation has been confirmed.”
Neither the Sindh livestock secretary nor any other official of the department could be approached to comment on the issue.