Pakistan: Of Terrorism & Tipplers

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Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, is generally described as an “exporter” of terrorism. Now it is trying to export something different – its famous Murree Beer produced at the nearly 150-year-old Murree brewery, Pakistan’s sole producer of beer.
Making beer and whiskey in a Muslim country, where 97 per cent of the population is officially banned from enjoying its products, it has never been an easy business and amid the upsurge of militant violence of the last two years that has seen the Taliban attacking targets across the country, setting fire to girls’ schools and even banning the sale of videos and DVDs, common sense might suggest that the fortunes of this establishment, which celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, might be on the wane.
Yet the opposite is happening: sales are booming – embarrassingly so. [Image above: The vintage photo of the brewery at the Murree hill station].
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AFTER  150 YEARS, BUSINESS IS BOOMING

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Note for WoP Readers: Though quite unfortunate, of late Pakistan, has earned a bad name as a country that has a number of nurseries to breed terrorism. It may not be the whole truth to brand Pakistan as country exporting terrorism, yet we cannot put all the blame on US, India or for that matter on any other country. Some splinter groups indeed are active in our land that have developed this as a creed, but by and large the spirit of Pakistani nation has always been and still is tolerance. The testimony to this spirit are some landmarks and symbols which still stand today—as much—alive, as much—dominating our urban canvas as they were before the birth of our Islamic Republic.

One such symbol is a statue that stands on the Mall, alongside the old Punjab University campus in Lahore. This statue stands as proudly as it used to during my student days and much beyond. I member whenever we crossed over the Mall to visit Tollinton Market where there was a small & cozy Milk Bar (which was famous for its milk shakes and if am not forgetting, was named Capri). On our way to the bar and back an impressive landmark of Lahore stood there as majestically as it stands today.

This landmark is the statue of Dr. Alfred Woolner, perhaps the only one at a public place in Lahore now.

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[Alfred Cooper Woolner May 1878 – January 7, 1936, was a noted Sanskrit scholar and professor as well as the Vice Chancellor of Punjab University, Lahore. He died in Lahore].

Interestingly, here in Lahore, the DHA [Defence Housing Authority] had erected a statue in that posh colony to venerate the soldiers of Pakistan. Since the fundamentalists took it as something of idolatry [“Butt prarasti”, as they call it], one night they vandalized that statue and now one does not find any semblance of this memorial. Yet despite the wave of extremism that has gripped this country like an evil storm (a manifest of which have been burning of schools and closing down the barber shops in the paradise like valley of Swat), the statue of Alfred stands there and nobody has even thought of desecrating this landmark.

Another landmark which stands testimony to our spirit of accommodation is the famous Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi. The enterprise is doing regular business, we are told by Andrew Buncombe, even though in Pakistan [being a Muslim country] liquors are completely banned.

And as columnist Swaaraj Chauhan notes, right or wrong, Pakistan is generally described as an “exporter” of terrorism but now it is trying to export something different – its famous Murree beer produced at the nearly 150-year-old Murree brewery. So beer not terrorism from Pakistan. We say Amen, Swaraaj Sahib…. [Nayyar]

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STILL BREWING IN A DRY LAND

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by Andrew Buncombe

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Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, is generally described as an “exporter” of terrorism. Now it is trying to export something different – its famous Murree beer produced at the nearly 150-year-old Murree brewery, Pakistan’s sole producer of beer.

“Understandably, making beer and whiskey in a Muslim country, where 97 per cent of the population is officially banned from enjoying its products, has never been an easy business,” reports The Independent.

“And amid the upsurge of militant violence of the last two years that has seen the Taliban attacking targets across the country, setting fire to girls’ schools and even banning the sale of videos and DVDs, common sense might suggest that the fortunes of this establishment, which celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, might be on the wane. Yet the opposite is happening: sales are booming – embarrassingly so.

” ‘Sales are good,’ said Isphanyar Bhandara, the brewery’s 36-year-old chief executive, ‘but we don’t want to shout about it because that also brings negative publicity and criticism, because this is a Muslim country – and yet sales are growing.’

“Pervaded by a rich smell of fermenting yeast and equipped with Victorian maturing cellars, the brewery is located in the heart of the military cantonment area of Rawalpindi, the garrison city where 30 people died in a suicide bomb attack earlier this week.

“The scenes within the thick stone walls are reminiscent of a British brewery of the remote past. Located opposite the residence of the Chief of the Army Staff, the brewery says it has never received a direct threat from the militants.”

On the walls of the historic Murree brewery, Pakistan’s sole producer of beer, hangs a slogan that its owners would wish upon the entire country. “Eat, drink and be Murree,” puns the poster, seemingly produced in the 1970s.

Understandably, making beer and whiskey in a Muslim country, where 97 per cent of the population is officially banned from enjoying your products, has never been an easy business. Non-Muslims are exempt from the ban, but even for them obtaining a drink can be complicated: some five-star hotels require foreigners to affirm in writing that they are non-Muslims and will be responsible for anything that happens when they are under the influence before they can order a drink.

[Right: An employee of the Murree brewery, which has ambitions to export its beer to Britain]

“Sales are good,” said Isphanyar Bhandara, the brewery’s 36-year-old chief executive, “but we don’t want to shout about it because that also brings negative publicity and criticism, because this is a Muslim country – and yet sales are growing.”

Pervaded by a rich smell of fermenting yeast and equipped with Victorian maturing cellars, the brewery is located in the heart of the military cantonment area of Rawalpindi, the garrison city where 30 people died in a suicide bomb attack earlier this week. The scenes within the thick stone walls are reminiscent of a British brewery of the remote past. Located opposite the residence of the Chief of the Army Staff, the brewery says it has never received a direct threat from the militants.

Metaphorically speaking , the Murree brewery sits on one of the major fault lines of Pakistan’s often contradictory society. While Muslims have been banned from buying or drinking alcohol since 1977, few private social gatherings among the country’s political or business élite take place without the lubrication of liquor. A well-established network of bootleggers dealing in both locally produced and smuggled alcohol ensures that, while bars do not exist except for a couple of gloomy premises in five-star hotels, a drink in a private home is never far away.

For an institution such as the brewery, this two-faced attitude towards alcohol has meant several things. Firstly, while Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians and other non-Muslims officially constitute its customers, there is a private acknowledgement that the overwhelming majority of drinkers are Muslims who work their way through the easily exploited permit system. Non-Muslims and foreigners can acquire an official permit that allows them to buy 30 bottles of beer or a quart of spirits every month. Reports suggest that such permits are easy both to copy and to obtain fraudulently.

At the same time, the brewery and distillery have to operate within a set of cramping rules. They are not allowed to advertise their products, for instance, and they have yet to be given permission to export them. The Islamic Ideology Council of Pakistan, which advises the government on policy issues, has made clear that it believes the export of alcohol abroad would damage the country’s international image. The council’s secretary Riaz-ur-Rehman confirmed: “We cannot allow anyone in the country to be engaged in the trade or production of alcohol.”

Meanwhile, the company, which earlier this year produced the Muslim world’s first 20-year-old malt, provides the state and federal authorities with around $1m (£604,000) a month in taxes and duty.

“Absurd as it sounds, it’s true,” said Mr. Bhandara, who is a member of Pakistan’s tiny population of Zoroastrians or Parsis and is also, ironically, a teetotaller, even though he is permitted to drink because of his religion. “It’s totally hypocritical. I’m talking to the government at the moment about permission to export our beer to Britain [where it would be marketed with the catchphrase ‘Have a Murree with your curry’], as many Asians in Britain are familiar with our products. Carlsberg were going to brew and sell it in the UK but then they said the beer market was shrinking. I am saying to them we have a 20 per cent increase in beer sales year-on-year in a Muslim country.”

The Murree Brewery, shares of which are publicly traded on the Pakistan stock exchange in Karachi, was initially established in 1860 among the woods and cooling breezes of the Murree Hills, 20 miles north of Islamabad, where the elevation of 6,000ft was perfect for producing light beer for British colonial troops. Growing demand for its award-winning products saw the company establish additional breweries in Quetta in 1886 and in Rawalpindi in 1889, the site of the current operation.

On a recent morning, bright with early winter sunshine, Jamshed Iqbal, the company’s enthusiastic quality control manager, led The Independent on a tour of the facilities. “Making liquor is easy, but brewing beer is an art,” he said, describing the challenges of temperature control in a region where the summer mercury can top 45oC.

Part of his duties include checking the taste of the finished products to ensure consistency. He said he believed the company’s “classic” lager had the best taste. But as a Muslim, was he allowed to taste it? “Just a mouthful,” he replied.

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Source: This post was originally published in the Independent Newspaper and cross posted at the ‘Moderate Voice’ Website by Swaraaj Chauhan. Courtesy the Newspaper & the site. Photo: Courtesy The daily  Nation.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.

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Published in: on 06/11/2009 at 11:20 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] This cup of tea was served by: Wonders of Pakistan […]

  2. This not amazing for me. In fact in a muslin country all such thing happens which is strictly prohibited in Islam. The followers are going in deep ditch due to the fact they are now living in a great dillema .

  3. […] Pakistan: Of Terrorism & Tipplers […]

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