With Lashker-e-Islam’s (LI) influence waning in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the locally-brewed liquor business is experiencing a revival in the province.
At their peak, LI banned the sale of locally-brewed liquor or tharra (moonshine) in Khyber Agency’s Bara bazaar – the largest traditional market in the region. The banned outfit fined drug dealers and brewery owners millions of rupees, and shut down shops selling local and foreign alcohol.
According to Sheena Gul Afridi*, a Levies force constable in Bara, the local breweries shifted to Jamrud five years ago, away from LI controlled areas.
“There are three famous brands of tharra in Khyber Agency. They sell it in plastic bags, sometimes placing a leaf inside the bag as a trademark,” he explained. The constable said the liquor was brewed from fruits and considered good for health.
Barakat*, an Afghan national, owns a moonshine distillery in the Khyber Agency’s Ghundi area. He says his liquor is brewed from jaggery or gur, a sweet product made from concentrated sugar-cane juice.
While a number of incidents of people dying after consuming moonshine have been reported over the past few years, Barakat denied his product being responsible for any fatalities, saying he had been in the business for 15 years. He admitted, however, that there were new distilleries which did not follow correct procedures while making moonshine. This, he said, resulted in a poisonous concoction which could blind and kill a person within hours.
Most of the liquor produced in the Khyber Agency is smuggled to Peshawar. A plastic bag of tharra can be bought for as much as Rs300-800. A dealer in Peshawar’s Kharkhano market said that different colours and flavours could be added to it in order to make different varieties.
“It is also sold in bottles of foreign liquor brands bought from Kabari bazaar,” he said.
In Peshawar, tharra is mainly consumed by Christian and Hindu communities. Well known markets for the business are situated in areas mainly inhabited by Christians and Hindus.
A representative of the Hindu community said that the former Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government had cancelled all permits to sell liquor in the area, including that of Muree Brewery.
“Members of the community were forced to look for other alternatives, such as tharra,” he said. Most of the deaths caused by improperly brewed moonshine occur in areas of the city where Hindus and Christians live.
“The only way to eliminate moonshine is to allow legal and licensed alcoholic drinks to be sold,” he concluded.
*Names have been changed.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2012.