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Pak lawmakers demand lifting ban on drinking

Alcohol has been banned in Pakistan since its birth in 1947. The government controls whatever is produced or distributed.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2007 14:33 IST

Some parliamentarians in Pakistan have demanded that the ban on consumption of alcohol, a "lesser evil", be lifted to curb the use of drugs, a "major evil", among the country's youth.

But members, who reminded that Islam prohibited the production, trade and consumption of alcohol, promptly opposed it. Critics also wondered if there was any 'lobby' promoting liquor in parliament.

The unusual debate in the National Assembly on Thursday broke "a taboo," The Daily Times said.

"The suggestion that the alcohol ban should be lifted drew wide grins from most of the parliamentarians in the house, but they stayed silent," the newspaper said.

The demand came from Ali Akbar Wains of the treasury benches: "In my personal opinion, the government should relax the ban on liquor to arrest the rising trend of the use of drugs like heroin, morphine and hashish among the youth of the country.

Most drug addicts are between the ages of 20 and 30 years."

By banning the "minor evil" of alcohol, the government had given the "major evil" of drugs to flourish in the country, he added.

While the opposition sent out mixed signals, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi supported Wains.

"It is a fact that restrictions on liquor have resulted in a surge in the use of deadly drugs in Pakistan," he said.

Then came a veiled threat from the minister.

"I am not going to mention how many members of this honourable house drink." The speaker expunged his remarks, but Niazi insisted that he stood by them.

But the government itself was a divided house. Environment Minister Tahir Iqbal and treasury member Zulfiqar Dillon opposed the proposal.

Iqbal cited prohibition in Islam, while Dillon accused Wains of lobbying for liquor traders.

Alcohol has been banned in Pakistan since its birth in 1947. The government controls whatever is produced or distributed.

The only private distillery in Pakistan is owned and run by a lawmaker, MP Bhandara, who is not a Muslim, but a Parsi.

Media reports on the debate did not indicate whether Bhandara was present and participated. He has in the past been accused by conservatives in the House of trying to take the country away from the Islamic path.

Both the ministers and the government members said they were expressing their 'personal' views. There was no indication of any nod from the government headed by Prime Minister Shakuat Aziz, or the military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf has embarked on a liberalisation drive, ushering in legal and social reforms, promoting what he calls "enlightened moderation" and give Pakistan, accused of hobnobbing with terrorism while fighting it, a 'soft' image.

However, political analysts said it was doubtful whether Musharraf would embark on relaxing ban on alcohol in a year when he has promised elections.

The issue of alcohol actually intruded in to a debate on drug abuse among the youth. Gulzar Sabtain, parliamentary secretary for narcotics control, told the lower house that there were over four million drug addicts in Pakistan.

"Out of these four million, 500,000 are chronic heroin addicts including 60,000 intravenous drug users. The rest use drugs other than heroin," Sabtain said.