‘Cheers’, I said to the bearded stranger and took a long drink of my beer. I hadn’t drunk alcohol in three years and I was pleased to be in the stranger’s hotel room with my friend, who was the stranger’s business contact here in Islamabad. It was beer from Murree, the brewery on the hills north of Islamabad. The price has gone up steeply, from 5 rupees three years ago to 44 rupees now, but it is very good beer.
We had spent the day, our day of rest, taking him on a tour of Islamabad and the hills. Islamabad has wide streets, great views of mountains, blue skies, new buildings. We took him to the lake, where he was amused by the signs which forbad swimming by humans and water buffaloes. We took him to the Shakar Parian Park where all visiting Heads of State plant trees: we felt that Prime Minister Nakasone of Japan would be angry to see his tree was dying!
We then took him to a restaurant. Our government here in Pakistan has decided that no meat shall be sold or served on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, to preserve our stocks of sheep and cows. Happily chicken and fish are not ‘meat’ but because it was Friday we gorged ourselves on roast lamb. Then we came back here to the hotel room and watched what the stranger called ‘kiss-free movies’.
Two bottles of spirits and twelve bottles of beer were lined up on the table. Me and my friend drank one beer each and then packed the rest into our satchels and work bags. Like 97% of the population of Pakistan we are Muslims, and the penalty if we are caught will be prison and ignominy. But it’s worth the risk because there has been no decent alcohol circulating since the government banned it some years ago. This is why me and my friend know the value of making friends with visitors: all non-Muslim foreigners staying at licensed hotels are allowed a daily, yes daily, ration of six bottles of beer and one of spirits!