A Pakistani legislator caused consternation among his colleagues when he suggested in the Sindh Assembly that alcohol should be as easily available as soft drinks in a country whose majority Muslim population is barred from drinking liquor.
Saleem Khursheed Khokhar,a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party that is power at the centre and in Sindh,made the suggestion while Excise Minister Mukesh Chawla was answering questions in the Assembly yesterday.
“Either you ban alcohol,or it should be made as easily available as Coca-Cola and 7-Up,” Khokhar said as Chawla almost burst into giggles,The Express Tribune
Khokhar,the chairman of the Assembly’s standing committee on minority affairs,said alcohol should be easily available to stop reinforcing the impression that only members of minority communities consume liquor.
He said reinforcing the impression that only non-Muslims drink alcohol creates further divisions and the sale of liquor should be made open for all.
“Why don’t you start at home first?” Chawla then remarked,implying that Khokhar either has a licence to sell liquor or was consuming it.
Khokar later told reporters,”I will resign if it’s proven that I have a wine shop.”
He said his point was that the assumption that only minority communities consume alcohol served to widen the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims,and that liquor should be available to everyone.
During the proceedings in the Assembly,Excise Minster Chawla said that according to a 1979 law regarding the sale of alcohol,only non-Muslims were allowed to sell or consume liquor.
The Prohibition Order of 1979,a law passed during the regime of late Gen Zia-ul-Haq,barred the consumption of liquor by Muslims but Pakistan has a thriving bootlegging industry.
Alcohol is available at a premium in most Pakistani cities.
Non-Muslims need to obtain a special permit which can be used to buy limited amounts of alcohol every month.
Unlike the more conservative provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,alcohol is more openly sold across Sindh,especially in Karachi.
Khokhar’s reference to alcohol in the Assembly led to several questions from legislators.
Humera Alwani asked Minister Chawla to speak on the “health hazards of alcohol” while another lawmaker asked if the ID cards of young people trying to buy alcohol were checked.
Speaker Nisar Khuhro disallowed a question on why Muslims were employed at liquor outlets while another legislator asked if the Hindu faith allows drinking alcohol.
The Express Tribune reported that a liquor licence costs a whopping Rs 5 million and that it costs Rs 350,000 to renew it. In marked contrast,fees for retail licences ranged
from Rs 500 to Rs 700,according to the Imperial Gazetteer of India of 1908.