Fighting can be a way of life in parts of Taliban-scourged Pakistan, but on the farms it is more likely to be dogs that are in training for their own violent and bloody battles.
Officially banned by the government and condemned as cruel by animal rights groups, thousands of wealthy Pakistani farmers, landowners and businessmen use the quiet winter months to indulge a passion for bloody dog fights.
“I love Moti just like my kids. He’s a source of pride,” crowed a jubilant Malik Tassaduq Hussain after his dog won a fight in Tangdhe Sayedan, a village in Punjab Province, 110km east of Islamabad.
To the din of drum beats and flutes, men hoisted Moti onto their shoulders, danced through the crowds and showered the animal with banknotes, after thousands watched him bite and tear his way to victory on a secluded plateau.
In villages such as these, fights between dogs, known as booly in Punjabi, provide one of the few forms of entertainment while crops grow.
The rules are simple: The dogs fight until one bleeds to death, runs off or until the owner takes pity and withdraws the animal from battle, handing the opponent victory.
Winning owners can get small prizes such as trophies, cellphones or TVs, while some organizers give prize money ranging from 5,000 rupees (US$55) to 100,000 rupees, depending on what the organizers can afford.
“We organize these festivals because we love dog fights. Every organizer chooses land in the village to stage these fights. It’s a hobby of the powerful,” said Abdul Ghaffar, a local organizer.
A champion like Moti, whose name means “pearl,” costs hundreds of US dollars a month in food and requires extensive training before the annual fighting season, which runs from late September to late March.
Hussain explains Moti’s complicated and expensive diet.
“We give him 2 liters of milk, 1kg of meat, butter and a supplement of an apple every day. It costs us 50,000 rupees every month,” the 59-year-old farmer said.
“Half my family is settled in Britain and my brother, who is a lawyer over there, gives me money to feed the dog and keep our family’s honor,” he added.
Moti is two years old, but spent a year training for his first fight, running behind a motorcycle for more than 20km a day, Hussain said.
Those who win bring honor and pride to the owners. It is a different story for those who lose.
“Please don’t ask me anything. I am disturbed. My dog lost,” a young man in his early 20s said.
“I have no courage to speak, it is shame,” he added, rubbing salt into his dog’s wounds to stop them becoming infected.
As with bans on terror groups that allow organizations to rename themselves and carry on largely unchecked, Pakistan does little to enforce the prohibition on dog fights and the industry they attract.
Traders set up tea and snack stalls around the field. There are organized parking contracts and every fight is filmed. Videos of major fights go on sale.
Zulfiqar Otho, a vet who volunteers for the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society, said that owners of losing dogs sometimes shoot them after fights and that on average, one dog dies per festival.
“They are rich businessmen, feudal lords, members of parliament and other bigwigs of society. They influence police through their stature and money. Police can’t move against the will of these people,” he said.
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