Ale Under the Veil—David Frum
Jonathan Foreman reports on the "last brewery in Pakistan." The Daily Telegraph could not resist headlining the piece: Ale Under the Veil.
The company reached the height of prosperity during the Second World War. Thanks to the presence of thousands of Allied forces in India, the brewery sold more than 1.6 million gallons of beer a year. After Independence and Partition, Murree’s market shrank, though a law that forbade Pakistani Muslims to drink could be easily subverted by a doctor’s certificate saying that the bearer required alcohol for medical reasons. The company diversified into soft drink and juice production in the late 1960s.
More serious prohibition came into effect in 1977. The ban was imposed by prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a populist effort to cultivate the religious right. After Bhutto was overthrown and executed by the ardently religious dictator General Zia ul-Haq, the state closed down the Murree brewery. Two years later a court held that the closure contravened minority rights – its owners being Parsees – and the brewery was back in business, ostensibly serving the alcoholic needs of the non-Muslim population.
Today, Murree’s market for its alcohol products is theoretically limited to members of the country’s religious minorities and Pakistan’s very small number of foreign tourists and expats. Moreover its products may be sold only in the country’s 70 or so licensed shops. Only six of these licences are in the country’s politically and culturally dominant Punjab province, which has a population of more than 70 million. There are none in Rawalpindi because a devout right-wing minister of tourism took away the licence previously held by Flashman’s Hotel.
If you are non-Muslim Pakistani in Punjab and have a permit, you are allowed to buy six bottles of whisky or one case of beer per month. ('Not enough,’ jokes the company’s technical manager, Fakher Mahmood.) Given that the company produces some 820 million half-litre bottles of beer, whisky, vodka, brandy and other alcoholic drinks per annum – and that those minorities make up less than five per cent of Pakistan’s 170 million people, those Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Parsees and pagan animists would have to be consuming more than 90 bottles per person per year, man, woman and child.