I have just returned from a month of mountain climbing in Pakistan where alcoholic beverages are banned.
Pakistan has the world’s greatest concentration of high peaks and glaciers, with more than 160 summits of over 6,000 meters and a beauty, isolation and sheer immensity like nothing else on the planet. It was this wilderness of ice and rock that Eric Shipton called “the epitome of mountain grandeur” that drew me to the confluence of the Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges and the big mountains Broad Peak and K2.
Over the course of history, the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Huns, Tibetans, Chinese, Mongols, Russians, and Britons, all climbed these mountains before me, and little has changed on the harsh, immense and unforgiving Baltoro Glacier of crag, cornices, and crevaces since Alexander the Great stood on that glacier in 333 BC.
At the time of its independence in 1947, Pakistani law was fairly liberal regarding liquor laws.
It is suggested that when the sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited in April, 1977, such was more of a political convulsion than a religious tension. Under pressure from an alliance of various right wing political parties, then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began to pragmatically address some of the demands made by the right including religious leaders.
Today, alcoholic beverages are legally banned in Pakistan for Muslims only (more than 97% of the population), but the penalty of 80 lashes for drinking was repealed in 2009.
And even with the recent election of former cricketer Iman Kahn’s PTI party, while I was in the country, there will be no immediate softening of religious influence.
Non-Muslims can consume alcoholic beverages after getting license from government, the only place in the world I know of where you need a license to drink. And non-Muslims foreigners are also allowed to order alcohol is some hotels. The sole authorized bar in the country is at the Pearl Continental in Peshwar. And curiously the Murree brewery exists as the nation’s only legal distillery; with a cult like following in the U.S. after Scout Willis was caught underage with a can of Murree beer in New York City.
Of course there are places in the U.S. where you cannot purchase alcoholic beverages. Ten states allow dry counties. Some states allowed counties and cities to ban alcoholic beverage sales following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, while in others, like Alaska and Mississippi, municipalities didn’t start going dry until the 1960s and 1980s, respectively. But these dry areas are going wet. In Maryland, for example, the last dry town, Damascus, became wet in 2012.
The people of Pakistan are warm and friendly and the mountains are the most spectacular on Earth, but it is very good to be back in Maryland where I can order a cold beer.