KARACHI, October 21 (Internews):
Authorities in Pakistan's largest city
have decided to close down all liquor shops in Karachi, a metropolis of
12 million people, a significant number of them non-Muslims.
The Council of the newly elected City Government has passed a unanimous
resolution approving cancellation of liquor permits and closure of all
wine shops in Karachi, an administration official said Sunday.
The sale of liquor in Pakistan is only allowed to foreigners and
non-Muslim locals and they have to drink in the privacy of their homes.
Muslims buy, possess and consume liquor at the pain of going to jail and
being flogged under an Islamic law revived by military strongman General
Ziaul Haq in 1979.
A candidate of Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative party, has won the
mayorship of Karachi and one of his campaign promises was to put an stop
to the liquor business.
The decision to ban sale even to foreigners and local non-Muslims is
expected to hurt the city's exchequer since it was only a few months ago
that the government allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages confiscated
from bootleggers and smugglers instead of destroying it.
The step was taken to bring in much-needed revenue for the struggling
economy, although at an estimated few million dollars the revenue is a
mere drop in the ocean.
Alcohol is a contentious issue in Pakistan where 97 per cent of the
population is Muslim.
The country's second military dictator after independence in 1947,
General Yahya Khan, who was forced out of power after the Bangladesh war
of 1971, was a prolific drinker.
His drunken binges and friendship with numerous women have recently been
chronicled graphically in a previously secret report on that clash.
The current military government of General Pervez Musharraf officially
released the report after an Indian newspaper published it.
The "Hamoodur Rehman Report," named after a Bengali chief justice, was
ordered by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who himself was a
In 1977, Islamic fundamentalist leaders joined with political parties to
launch a movement against Bhutto, and bars and liquor shops was burned
down by rampaging mobs.
In a desperate attempt to save his government, Bhutto banned alcohol,
but that could not prevent General Zia from taking over in a military
coup and Bhutto was hanged in 1979.
Zia relied heavily on Islamic clerics for support for his dictatorship,
extending to them state largesse, and this, combined with the Afghan
jihad added to the longevity of his regime.
To underpin his Islamic posture, Zia issued ordinances that
discriminated against minorities and women and introduced harsh
punishments, including flogging, for extra-marital sex which one-sidedly
went against women.
Nowadays, while Muslims are banned from taking alcohol, Christians and
other minorities can buy and consume alcohol provided they obtain
permits. This has turned out to be a bonanza for a number of people,
both within the government and out.
Since 1979 when the prohibition became effective, permits have been
issued by the excise department, usually for an extra fee to expedite
Much of this alcohol is then sold to Muslims, and a number of embassies
in Islamabad and consulates in Karachi have become notorious for selling
liquor on the black market from their official and personal quotas.
Many in the police have also reportedly profited. They check and search
around hotels where liquor is sold, carefully examining permits - or the
lack of them. And for a price, transgressors can go unhindered.
The widespread underground use of alcohol has prompted calls for the ban
on drinking to be lifted across the board, as this would regulate the
industry and provide vital revenue.
But this might be too far for even the liberal Musharraf. -Internews