Bootlegging is a booming business in Islamic Pakistan

As the muezzin`s call to prayer cuts through the muggy air hanging over the Pakistani capital, a black sedan glides to a halt a few hundred metres from the mosque.

Updated: Apr 14, 2010, 13:57 PM IST

Islamabad: As the muezzin`s call to prayer
cuts through the muggy air hanging over the Pakistani capital,
a black sedan glides to a halt a few hundred metres from the

There is a hurried transaction, something cylindrical
wrapped in a newspaper is thrust through the window, some
money changes hands and the car glides away.

Just another sale for a local bootlegger in neighbourhood
in the heart of Islamabad.

Even though the sale of liquor is banned in the Islamic
Republic of Pakistan, there is no stopping the sales though
the length and breadth of the country.

Bootleggers operate from homes in posh localities and
their neighbours too never seem to mind the transactions.
The sales peak during weekends, when it is not unusual to
spot women driving up to buy liquor and crates of beer.

Bootleggers, more often than not, hail from the majority
Muslim community.

"Saare Kalma-padhne waale Musalmaan hain (they are all
practicing Muslims)," a taxi driver told a news agency.

Pakistan was officially declared "dry" in 1977.

Under the law, alcohol can`t be drunk by 97 per cent of
the country`s population.

The lone brewery in the country, Murree Brewery, caters
to the remaining three per cent, comprising Christians, Hindus
and Parsis.

Besides bootleggers, some of the well-heeled depend on
friends in the diplomatic circuit.

The late Minoo Bhandara, whose family owns and operates
the Murree Brewery, once remarked, "I think 99 per cent of my
customers are Muslims. Just not very openly of course."

Liquor is even served at some Muslim weddings, unlike

"We only serve liquor at weddings," revealed a
middle-class Muslim Punjabi who works in the IT sector.

According to Nadeem F Paracha, a senior columnist, before
a ban on the public sale of alcohol was imposed in Pakistan in
April 1977, various foreign whisky and beer brands were
available in bars, liquor shops and clubs in the main urban

"Murree Brewery started to advertise its beer in the late
1960s and early 1970s. Hoardings and billboards carrying
images of Murree Beer went up, mostly in Karachi, with the
biggest being a neon sign put on top of a six-storied building
in Karachi`s Lucky Star area," Paracha wrote.

"This sign was also stoned and damaged by a passing
procession of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami supporters
during the 1970 election campaign," he noted adding,"Ever
since the ban on alcohol, liquor smugglers and dealers have
been turning a profit with contraband alcohol.

Trucks bring vodka in from China across the mountains
along the country?s northern border, while ships unload cargos
of beer and Scotch whiskey from Europe on its southern coast."

Several alcohol detox centres being run in the country`s
main cities are proof of the presence of alcoholics.

One such centre is WillingWays, which regularly places
advertisements in newspapers and magazines and has a 24-hour

"Act now. We have a step by step plan for his recovery.
Don`t suffer in silence. You have waited too long for a
miracle," the advertisement states.

A study conducted by Waseem Haider, a surgeon at the
Medico-Legal Punjab office in Lahore, concluded that
Pakistan`s Muslims, including women and adolescents, are more
prone to becoming addicted to liquor than members of other

Through data collected over five years, Haider found that
addiction to alcohol is higher among Muslim men and women in
urban areas than members of the Christian, Hindu and other
minority communities.

Of the 1,560 intoxication cases detected by police and
reported to the medico-legal office in the past five years,
Muslims accounted for 92.89 per cent while people from other
religions comprised 7.11 per cent.

The analysis of cases showed that even children aged
between 10 and 15 years were consuming alcohol. The highest
number of cases 42.56 per cent involved teenagers and
young adults between 16 and 25 years.

According to a report in the New York Times, even the
threat of death cannot deter one 30-year-old entrepreneur in
Peshawar from his appointed rounds supplying the Pakistani
elite with expensive contraband Scotch.

"The bootlegger employs an elaborate scheme to conceal
his business, renting a private house that doubles as a secret
warehouse and hiring teenage motorbike drivers to deliver his

Such inventiveness is a requirement in this line of
business: to hide from the police, who want his money; the
Taliban, who want his head; and his family, who would disown
him," the report said.

It is not unusual to hear of people taking ill or even
dying after drinking locally brewed liquor.

At least 14 people died and four more fell seriously ill
after drinking moonshine in the eastern Pakistani city of
Multan a few months ago.