The BackBencher: Summer wine — Prohibition and politicians

Published: March 22, 2012

A discussion on alcohol woke up the house from its usual stupor. PHOTO: RASHID AJMERI/ EXPRESS

KARACHI: Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Saleem Khursheed Khokhar’s suggestion that perhaps alcohol should be sold as openly as soft drinks is perhaps one of the more creative ideas to have emerged from the hallowed halls of the Sindh Assembly in recent days.

“Either you ban alcohol,” Khokhar started off, at which Sindh Excise and Taxation Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla almost burst into giggles. “Or it should be made as easily available as Coca Cola and 7-Up is.”

“Why don’t you start at home first?” Chawla retorted, implying that Khokhar either has a lucrative licence to sell liquor or was consuming it by the bucket load. “I will resign if it’s proven that I have a wine shop,” Khokhar told reporters later. His point was that this assumption that only minorities consume alcohol serves to widen the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, and it should just be available to everyone.

Chawla wasn’t the only man laughing in the assembly on Wednesday. PPP MPA Jam Tamachi Unar termed the minister’s claim that drugs had been eradicated in Kashmore as the “year’s biggest joke”. A discussion on alcohol woke up the house from its usual stupor. Some of the questions were a touch too naive, like MPA Humera Alwani who asked the minister to elaborate on the ‘health hazards of alcohol’. Another wanted to know if the ID cards of young people trying to buy alcohol were checked, which Chawla reassured happens.

Despite the furore that emerges when there’s any news of issuing liquor licences, it turns out that it’s rather pricey to get a liquor licence. In fact, it costs a whopping Rs5 million and another Rs350,000 to renew it. For history buffs – in the days of yore, fees for retail licences ranged from Rs500 to Rs700, according to the Imperial Gazetteer of India 1908.

Khokhar, who often rambles on in the assembly, actually had a point that the subject of alcohol almost always ends up being about religion. There were lots of sanctimonious questions in the assembly, and the irked Speaker Nisar Khuhro disallowed a question on why Muslims were employed at wine shops, while another MPA asked if the Hindu faith allows alcohol. Perhaps they should just check the ID cards of those queuing up at liquor stores over the weekend to see how many Muslims- “who must be saved from this”- are actually buying up Murree Brewery’s finest.

Since Prohibition, there has been far too much discussion and finger pointing on who drinks or not. Even the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – whose government instituted it – quite famously quipped that he drank alcohol, not the blood of the people. While Khokhar’s comment in this paper today is tomorrow’s pakora wrapping, perhaps it is time for some serious introspection on whether the ban on selling and consuming alcohol actually makes any sense.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (5)

  • The Truth
    Mar 22, 2012 - 11:45AM

    A modern, civilized society should realize that in the 21st century you cannot legislate morality. The very democracy that we claim to love and cherish so much is based on the concept that the people CHOOSE their leaders rather than having leaders imposed on them. Likewise, we must respect the concept of civil rights and the ability to CHOOSE for ourselves the degree to which we follow religion. It is not for the state to decide that my moral compass is pointed correctly or incorrectly. If I am a sinner, and my sins do not harm you then it really is not your business what I do. That being said the State does have an interest in maintaining that I do not drive while drunk and kill someone else. So laws that govern public intoxication and age verification should be encouraged. I agree for once with the MPA, the time has come to end this farce. Legalize It! Don’t criticize it!

    The Truth Hurts

    Recommend

  • Random
    Mar 22, 2012 - 11:47AM

    So now you guys are lobbying to make alcohol available for all….Can you please start lobbying for nude beaches as well ..

    Recommend

  • Raz
    Mar 22, 2012 - 2:19PM

    All banned items being used for pleasure or taste must be allowed to be freely available in order to burst their black market. This shall also be helpful in stoppage of deaths occurring on daily basis as a result of the use of low quality products.

    Recommend

  • Aijaz Hussain
    Mar 31, 2012 - 1:01AM

    @Random:
    What is wrong with nude beaches? They should be there. As long as people are not forced to go there, what is the problem with having places where you can take your clothes off and enjoy the sun and surf?

    Recommend

  • OMG give me a break
    Mar 31, 2012 - 1:56AM

    I can’t believe I am hearing this!! Our country was built on the foundations that Muslims would have an independent land where people who wish to, you know, follow the religion most of us claim to follow, can do so without temptation of vices on our shopping malls, cafes, grocery stores.

    The religion for whom our grand / great grandparent parents who lost their lives at the hands of the British and India seems to have lost its importance in our lives.

    Why don’t we all all just give up our faiths altogether and become atheists, ask India and Britain to come back to take over us, just lose our identity altogether. Open up, pubs, clubs, casino’s. We don’t care about religion, its just whatever suits us isn’t it. How civilized can it be to follow a bit of religion that suits you and abandon that which doesn’t.

    I’m living in the west for the past 7 years. The reason for their civility is not alcohol, its the reason for their problems. Tax on alcohol is through the roof, due to potential health and social hazards. The reason westerners drink is because it is part of their culture. Were fortunate to have a religion that forbids it and now our leaders want to make it legal.

    An enforceable justice system staunch rules and regulations, which if we had in our land would make Pakistan into a stronger state.

    Be grateful,

    Not hypocritical.Recommend

More in Pakistan