ALCOHOL IN PAKISTAN: The Politics of Boozing

“The front line of the struggle against fundamentalism in Pakistan isn’t in the mountainous border regions. It’s in the country’s permit rooms. Alcohol is sold there — and customers dream of the West.”

Uwe Buse in Spiegel (via Amitava Kumar):

4a_1Temptation awaits at the end of a ramp, in the murkiness in the back corner of an underground garage. There are two holes in the wall, each covered with bars. Both though, the small one and the larger one, have enough space for an arm to reach through. A man sits behind each window, waiting for business. It’s as simple as that, and yet these two nondescript little holes in a parking garage wall represent a place of beginnings, a place of hope.

Devout Muslims call it “a disgrace for the city,” Ilyaz Rassar calls it “an opportunity” and Pakistan’s government bureaucrats call it a “permit room.” This permit room, one of about 60 scattered throughout the country, is in downtown Multan, a city of shrines and mosques in eastern Pakistan — a city otherwise known as the City of Saints.

The men behind the bars are selling alcohol to non-Muslims, a practice that’s entirely legal and sanctioned by the government. Under a system that could be dubbed Prohibition Light, this permit room sells four brands of beer, vodka, Silver Top gin, Doctor’s brandy and malt whiskey. There is a purchase minimum for beer — five cans — at 200 rupees, or about €3 apiece. A bottle of the cheapest whiskey goes for about €30.

More here.