Alcohol production, smuggling, sale and consumption
KABUL (Pajhwok) Alcoholic beverages are smuggled at a massive scale into Afghanistan, where the drinks are freely sold in certain bazaars and hotels, but the authorities have yet to take steps to prevent their sale.
Most of the contraband is smuggled from Pakistan and Central Asian states. Such drinks are also produced domestically. The consumption and smuggling of alcohol is un-Islamic and an offense under the Afghan constitution.
Article 44 of the Law against Intoxicants and Narcotics Control says: “Individuals who violate the law will be punished in line with the teachings of Hanafi Jurisprudence if he/she is found to be:
1.Not normal, forgetting things and unable to speak fluently;
2.Confesses before a judge to drinking alcohol, or has two or more witnesses against him;
3.Adult and capable of differentiating between alcohol and others drinks;
4.To have consumed alcohol. The judge will flog 80 times a drunk male in a standing position and a female as many times in a sitting.
Article 45 of the law says a person found guilty of smuggling anykind of alcoholic beverages will be sentenced to:
- Two months in jail for smuggling less than one litre of an alcoholic beverage;
- Two to six months in jail if the quantity of the smuggled material is between two to 10 litres;
- Six months to one year in prison for smuggling 10 to 50 litresof alcoholic beverages;
- To three years imprisonment if the quantity of smuggled alcoholic beveragesis between 50 and 100 litres;
- Three to eight years in jail if the quantity of smuggled alcoholic drinks is between 100 and 500 litres; and
- An additional 6 monthsfor each 50 litres if the quantity of alcoholic beverages exceeds 500 litres.
Clause 1of the same article says that punishment for alcohol smugglers will not exceed 20 years.
According to information made available to Pajhwok Afghan News, alcohol is not only smuggled into Afghanistan; it is also manufactured domestically. A number of people in Kabul and different provinces are involved in consuming and selling the contraband.
Sale and purchase in Kabul
This reporter saw with his own eyes the sale and purchase of wine at several shops in the Flower Street in the 10th police district of Kabul. Expired tomato paste, washing powder, juices and mineral water can also be seen in the market. The shopkeepers say the items are not meant for sale.
When this scribe -- posing a customer -- asked one shopkeeper for an alcoholic drink. Without any reluctance, he offered a wide variety of wine. Another vendor said he had different brands in his store for bulk purchasers.
“We supply wine to a number of offices and firms, having signed contracts with them. We provide them alcohol in quantities desired by customers. They take supplies at their door-step,” said the shopkeeper, who acknowledged the illegality of his business.
However, he hastened to argue, though spuriously, that he had to sell the banned item to meet his family needs. In the Shahr-i-Naw neighbourhood of the capital, he said, some 30 shops were selling alcohol. Different domestic and foreign brands are available in the market, with the price of one bottle ranging between 350 afs and 7000 afs.
Arsh, a consumer hailing from the 3rd police district, confirmed wine sale at general stores in Kart-e-Chahar area. He accused Kabul-based liquor sellers of paying bribes to police and other law-enforcement personnel.
Another user of the banned substance, Sameer, says he belongs to the 5th police district. He adds wine could be obtained from shops near wedding halls in the city and areas including Binayee, Kart-e-Chahar, Taimani and Qargha Park.
Most of wine is sold and purchased over the telephone, he continues. The consumers have to cultivate sellers; otherwise liquor purchase involves legal problems and social stigma. “In a Shahr-i-Naw hotel, Afghan and Tajik singers entertain customers, who are openly served wine.”
At the same time, Wolesi Jirga member Abdul Qader Watandost Zazai recently told the lower house that wine consumption and vulgarity had been on the rise in Kabul. The lawmaker’s statement was based on a couple’s complaint that their son returned home intoxicated late at night.
The legislator quoted the boy’s parents as saying that singing, drinks and other vulgar practices were rampant at Kabul Cuisine -- a major draw for youth. The issue has been shared with security organs, according to the parliamentarian, who said. “The couple also told me that the district police chief and his subordinates also visit to drink alcohol on the house…”
Zazai said four people, who had been sent to the hotel for investigations, confirmed the couple’s claim. He urged the lower house to summon the security officials concerned and tell them to prevent the un-Islamic practice and close down the hotel.
But Syed Abdul Rauf Hashimi, the district police chief, reject the allegation levelled against him as groundless. He denied visiting the hotel, insisting: “The charge is malicious. The media is free and journalists should move the crime investigation department against me,” he remarked.
Hashimi demanded: “If there are alcohol sellers in Kabul, the source of supply should be ascertained. Where does it come from? Wand who brings it? All people consume it; the whole world drinks wine. Young and old people consume alcohol. But we should know where it comes from.
“Look, my brother (Zazai)! Every now and then, you visit Dubai, Canada and Germany. You bring it, or I? If the 500 high-ranking officials, who go abroad, return home with one bottle each, 500 bottles will find their way to Afghanistan. They know they themselves are involved; ordinary people can’t do this,” the police officer continued.
He also repudiated the claim that wine is sold at Shahr-i-Naw shops and hotels. Police have detained a number of alcohol sellers and handed them over to judicial organs. Negative trends could be seen in every country, but police had taken effective steps to curb wine sales in Kabul, he maintained.
Kabul Cuisine owner Abdullah Pashtunyar recalled his hotel was formerly known as Diplomat. Zazai’s utterances about the hotel were far from reality, he observed, while denying the sale of wine and other forms of vulgarity.
The Diplomat Hotel, which was operating under a three-year contract with Pashtunyar, was the hub of illegal activities, the owner acknowledged. But when he came to know of it, the contract was terminated before its completion. But now the proprietor has banned alcoholic drinks at the 32-room hotel.
“If Mr. Zazai has any documentary evidence, he should produce it. We are ready to show him our one-year database and defend ourselves. This will establish the validity or invalidity of Zazai’s claim,” he said.
However, the owner admitted that Afghan and Tajik singers gave live concerts at the facility. “If music or being an artiste is a crime, Zazai should close down TV channels…We have created a positive entertainment environment for youth and have formally invited vocalists from Tajikistan; they have the relevant documents.”
He went on to defend himself in these words: “We have invested $7 million in this project and don’t want Zazai to take the issue to the media or insinuate this or that type of vulgarity is rampant in our hotel.”
Pashtunyar recalled that the parliamentarian was trying to malign the hotel, where he and his armed guards were denied entry a week back. Zazai was not let in because the entry of armed people and armored vehicles into the facility is banned, according to the proprietor.
Sale & purchase in provinces
Pajhwok’s investigations verify the sale and purchase of alcohol in a number of provinces. A dweller of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of northern Balkh province, said the illegal business was ongoing in areas including Balkh Gate, shops around Bakhtar High School, Nar-i-Shahi, Hairatan Inter-section and the Tashqarghan neighbourhood of Khulm district.
Shabir Ahmad disclosed wine was also served at Delhi Darbar, a Hindu-owned hotel in the provincial capital. Without giving details, he said other hotels in the city also served customers with outlawed beverages.
Despite repeated efforts, Pajhwok could not contact the Delhi Darbar management for its view. Frequented by foreigners, the hotel has been renamed as Asian Spice. Foreigners without passports are not allowed entry.
Another inhabitant of Mazar-i-Sharif, who did not want to be named, alleged many varieties of foreign and domestically produced wine were easily available in the city. The Andkhoi brand, known for its quality and taste, is in high demand.
This brand is smuggled to Mazar-i-Sharif from the Andkhoi district of Faryab province in mineral water bottles. Last year, police seized around 1600 litres of liquor and over 1000 litres of fermented raisin juice during a raid on a brewery in Maimana, the capital of Faryab.
Mohammad Ilyas Madani, head of the counter-narcotics commission that was founded 18 months back, said they had identified beer sale points in eastern Nangarhar province. But the security personnel had failed to demonstrate a serious will to curb the illicit trade, he charged.
Without naming the sale points, he claimed the unlawful business had increased in the province, where alcoholic beverages are smuggled from Pakistan and Kabul. Subjecting the drunkards to Islamic punishments was the only effective way to discourage the illicit commerce, he suggested.
Provincial council member Zabihullah Zmaray said liquor was offered at some hotels in Jalalabad, the provincial capital. “We are a Muslim nation and our government must adopt serious measures to crack down on the un-Islamic drinks.”
Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the governor’s spokesman, the joint commission -- comprised of representatives from civil society, police, Justice and Haj departments -- had been constituted to discourage the use of drugs. The panel’s efforts had led to the arrest of several individuals on wine-drinking charges.
A resident of central Bamyan province, Ali Mohammad, told this news agencies several types of alcohol were sold without restrictions in the main provincial bazaar. The contraband is skillfully concealed in other good before being smuggled from Kabul to Bamyan.
He blamed security officials for failing to deal with the challenge. “Some government functionaries in Bamyan City themselves consume alcohol. They aid wine sellers here,” he said, stressing the need for determined action to check the practice.
A store keeper In Kunduz City, Aleem Khan, said though the authorities had been able to check alcohol sales to some extent, yet the banned beverages were available in fruit markets and civilian houses.
Most of alcoholic beverages are smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan and Central Asian republics. Gen. Nazifi Zaki, a member of the Wolesi Jirga Internal Security Commission, admitted alcohol ingredients were illegally brought to the country.
“The alcoholic beverages sold in markets here don’t come in a carton or two. Containers of such drinks come to Afghanistan. Go to any area of Kabul, ask for any beverage and you will get it easily, even in far-flung localities,” the lawmaker said.
She noted: “Police are not directly complicit in the unlawful commerce. Drug mafia and people, enjoying government support at the top level, bribe police, attorneys and others to bring hundreds of containers of alcohol to the country.”
Ms. Zaki said she had consistent demand for preventing beer smuggling, a violation of Islamic teachings and Afghanistan’s laws. Alcohol consumption leads to different offences, including murder, according to her.
Interior Ministry official Syed Mehdi Kazmi admitted alcoholic beverages found their way from Central Asia into Afghanistan through the Sher Khan Port in Kunduz and Hairatan Port in Balkh. Similarly, he explained, the contraband was smuggled into Nangarhar and Kandahar from Pakistan.
Kunduz police spokesman Syed Sarwar Hussaini acknowledged alcohol smuggling and sale in the province. The smugglers use militant-controlled jungle routes for bringing such drinks from Tajikistan to Imam Sahib district, according to the police official, who accused the fighters of receiving bribes in return for allowing the transportation of liquor.
Despite police checks at several places, the smugglers manage to deliver alcoholic beverages to the intended recipients. About wine consumption, Hussaini said police had seized 100 bottles from a residential house in the Sar Hawz area of Kunduz City last year.
Similarly, Kazmi admitted certain people brought alcoholic drinks from India for personal use. Police have been trying to crack down on the production and consumption of the illicit beverages. Last year, police seized six tonnes of alcohol, about 40 percent of such drinks smuggled into the country or produced domestically every year.
In response to a query, he said: “Yes, the item is also smuggled from Pakistan. We have recovered alcoholic drinks from trailers and containers coming from that countryat Torkham and Spin Boldak border crossings.”
Kabul-based wine consumer Sameer also alleged alcoholic drinks were smuggled through the Kabul airport from Dubai and India. With links to airport officials, the smugglers manage to take the contraband band out for sale in the market. He said if a traveler returns with two litres of alcohol, one goes to custom/airport authorities and the other stays with the passenger.
But the airport commander denied police allowed alcohol smuggling. However, Brig. Gen. Haq Nawaz Haqyar did admit that those unfamiliar with the relevant law brought in alcoholic beverages at a small scale. Some individuals have been arrested with such drinks, which are destroyed after approval from the authorities concerned.
On their arrival at the airport, he explained, all luggage and goods were checked by representatives from the National Directorate of Security, intelligence police and Ministry of Counter-Narcotics. Police complicity in wine smuggling was yet to be proved, he added.
Production of alcoholic drinks
Several people told Pajhwok alcoholic drinks were produced in different parts of Afghanistan. One of them, Sameer said: “In the north, I know a man who ferments raisins and other fruits to make wine, which is brought to Kabul in mineral water bottles. He sells each 1.5-litre bottle for 750 afs.” He also spoke of Kabul-based individuals making alcoholic beverages inside their homes.
An alcohol seller in Shahr-i-Naw confided to this scribe the booze made in Kabul was poured into foreign alcohol bottles and sold in the name of international brands. Mazar-i-Sharif resident Shabir said alcohol was produced in Baba Qambar and Sherabad neighbourhoods of the city.
Zabihullah Khan, who also lives in Mazar, also verified the production and sale of wine in the city, but he did not name the areas where the unlawful business was taking place.
Bamyan dweller Abdul Samad disclosed alcohol was made in Shaibar district. Poured into 20 litres jerry canes, the beverages are brought to Bamyan City for sale. “I don’t know where it is produced in Shaibar, but the brand is said to have good quality.” One security official confirmed the claim.
Interior Ministry official Mehdi Kazmi said police had been able to shut a number of alcohol-selling selling shops in Kabul and several other provinces. In 2013, 60 different alcoholic beverages were recovered and several people held with booze packed in their luggage for personal use at the Kabul airport.
“We have instructed our personnel at airports, border crossings and dry ports to pay special attention to curbing the smuggling of liquor,” he said, adding 2800 people, including 180 involved in smuggling wine, were detained last year.
Kazmi revealed 23 security officials, including police and army personnel, had been arrested in 2013 for aiding drug smuggling. “Being a law-enforcement force, we arrest all those, including policemen, soldiers and other government servants, for trespassing the law. All people, civilians or government employees, are equal before the law…”
Police were cracking down on alcohol sellers and consumers, but their primary objective was to prosecute those involved in producing and trafficking the drugs, the official said.
Khali Ahmad Mowahid, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Task Force, said they had received 42 alcohol-related cases last year and 11 dossiers in 2015. The cases involve 32,000 litres of alcoholic drinks, mostly seized in Kandahar and Farah provinces.
In each case, he claimed, at least one accused had been sentenced to imprisonment, with some jailed for 20 years. However, Mowahid gave no further details.
On the other hand, MP Nazifa Zaki slammed the state organs concerned for what she called inadequate efforts to clamp down on alcohol consumers and traffickers. “I believe truly professional, patriotic, committed and clean officials be deployed at borders and customs offices to prevent booze smuggling.”
She underlined the imperative of a comprehensive crackdown, arguing that seizing a bottle or two of wine or prosecuting an individual was not enough to address the issue. If effective steps were not taken to check alcohol production and trafficking, she warned, the number of addicts would shoot up.
The lawmaker said all relevant organs were duty-bound to intensify their campaign against alcohol traffickers and users. The smuggling of wine in containers was a matter of defamation for a Muslim country like Afghanistan, she concluded.
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