Published on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 by OneWorld.net
by Ghafar Ali Khan
PESHAWAR – Protesting against the U.S-led attack on Iraq, wide sections of society in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have banned American multinationals Coke and Pepsi, amongst others, spawning a slew of new, local soft drinks.
Soon after the attack, Pakistan’s ulemas (religious leaders) launched a campaign against foreign products, particularly beverages, appealing to the faithful in their Friday sermons, to stop using products made by American, British and Jewish-run companies.
Their speeches inflamed the passions of the Pakistani public outraged by the bombing of Iraq, striking a chord even among liberals in Pakistani society.
During the U.S. attack on Afghanistan last year, the leaders had issued similar appeals to the public, but failed to get an encouraging response.
But this time they hit pay dirt. Large numbers of Muslims especially those in the NWFP believed America would launch similar attacks on other Muslim countries.
The ulemas came armed with a list of products and names of fast-food chains that should not be patronized by Pakistanis because they claimed the revenue thus generated would ultimately be used against Muslims in Iraq and Palestine.
So Pakistanis scratched Pepsi, Coke, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Caltex, Mobil and others from their shopping lists.
The idea of boycotting U.S. products was floated in the Pakistani Senate (upper house of Parliament) last month.
Initially, it was a purely political ploy for the ruling right-wing Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and its supporters.
But the concept proved contagious, with traders, lawyers, teachers and other organizations, in no way aligned with the religious right represented by the MMA, deciding to follow suit.
Last week, even the high court bar association of Peshawar, NWFP’s capital, banned the sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the court cafeteria.
The association issued directives to the cafeteria contractor to refrain from selling Pepsi Cola, Coca-Cola and other beverages produced by the two American multinationals.
Alleging that the profits earned by these companies were used to target Muslims, the bar association’s general body meeting decided to boycott products made by U.S. and British companies.
The NWFP chapter of the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association urged teachers to avoid the use of American and “Jewish” products.
President of the Peshawar University Teachers Association (PUTA) Arbab Khan Afridi, said, “Pepsi was my favorite cold drink but this year I did not have it even once.”
Afridi said PUTA had banned the use of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in their meetings and functions to register their protest against the “atrocities against Muslims” around the world.
“We have made a formal request to the stores and cafeteria owners on the campus to stop the sale of these beverages and now we have planned to issue a formal notification in this respect,” he said.
On April 8, traders throughout Pakistan observed a complete strike to condemn the U.S. aggression against Iraq.
“We have appealed to businessmen and consumers to boycott foreign products, particularly soft drinks, and the people’s response was very positive,” said a leader of the trading community in Peshawar, Sharafat Ali Mubarak.
While the boycott might be bad news for multinationals, their local competitors never had it so good. Riding on the anti-American wave were local companies eager to fill the void.
Several small local beverage companies scrambled to get a toehold in the multi-billion dollar market in Pakistan, particularly the NWFP.
Among the home-grown heroes was the soft drink Salsabeel. After the Iraq war started, the company distributed publicity leaflets to people streaming out of mosques after Friday prayers.
Salsabeel claimed it was a substitute for Coca-Cola and Pepsi and appealed to Muslims to buy the local drink and economically destroy the U.S. and its allies – Britain and the Jews.
The people, particularly students in the University of Peshawar, welcomed the appeal and Salsabeel did brisk business there.
The manager of a university cafeteria, Sultan Zeb, said most of the students asked for Salsabeel instead of Pepsi or Coke.
“As the summer advanced, one would imagine that Pepsi sales would increase but, in fact, it dropped up to 40 percent after the students started the boycott,” he said.
Department of economics student Ismail Khan said students had decided to boycott multinational beverages because the country was losing foreign exchange.
“We can easily avoid buying many foreign products and we will use their alternatives to render these multinationals economically weak,” he added.
Soda was another local soft drink which had begun raking in profits. Pitched as an alternative to the American colas, it was a hit not only in Peshawar but in other parts of NWFP as well.
Apart from the anti-American sentiment, a key factor working in favor of the local soft drinks was their low price – half of Pepsi and Coke.
The manager of the Salsabeel beverage company, Muhammad Tariq, said the drink was launched after the leaders requested the company to provide people with a local option.
“We started production on a limited scale because we do not have large-scale machinery like the multinationals but the people’s response was encouraging,” he claimed.
Tariq boasted that, “Our sales increased by 50 percent this year as compared to the previous year.”
Mubarak said sales of foreign soft drink companies had nosedived. He said multinationals were planning to slash prices, announcing discount schemes to lure businessmen.
But Pepsi officials denied the boycott had eroded their market share. A supervisor at Pepsi Cola, Asad Khan, said though some traders and individuals had voiced protests, Pepsi sales remained unaffected.
Khan claimed Salsabeel and Soda would not be able to meet growing demand. Consequently, consumers would return to cold drinks manufactured by the multinationals.
“The local beverages are being manufactured manually or by small-scale machinery so their quality is poor, and they cannot compete with us,” he asserted.
Copyright 2003 OneWorld