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From alcohol to kites: An A to Z guide to the Islamic Republic of 'Banistan'

Getty Images, file

All of these things have been banned in Pakistan at one time or another. Clockwise from top left: Long-haired musicians, 'The Da Vinci Code,' kite-flying, Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses,' India (usually in the form of its newspapers and TV channels) and alcohol.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Last month, it was cellphones. Before that, it was motorcycles, shawls and jackets. Earlier this year, it was the BBC, Twitter and YouTube. In 2011, it was porn websites. In 2010, it was Facebook. In the 1990s, it was Indian television and musicians with long hair. In the 1980s, it was Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses."  And in the 1970s, it was booze.

All banned. In Pakistan. By Pakistan.

Through the decades. Pakistan's state and non-state actors have found a way to regulate, boycott, ban or completely outlaw technology, information, literature, media and even entire communities.

The result? The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, once imagined as a secular, democratic haven for India's minority Muslim population, may well have become the land of "Banistan."

Babar Sattar, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is one of "Zia's Children" — the generation who grew up during the 1970s and 1980s when the culture of forbiddance took root through ironclad legislation passed by the country's Islamist dictator of the time, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

"The proclivity to ban is the continuing manifestation of expanding religion-driven morality at the expense of personal liberty," Sattar told NBC News. "We don't even recognize that there exists a need not to allow collective outrage or shame to pillage individual rights."

Here's an A to Z of what's been curtailed in "Banistan." 

Alcohol: Pakistan was a pretty wet place until the late premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol — days before he was removed by an Islamist general in a coup in 1977. Though a heavy drinker himself, Bhutto's ban was meant to move him closer to the religious margins of the country. The political strategizing didn't work for him (he was executed), but prohibition in Pakistan stuck. Still, booze is available for the connected and the rich.

The only brewery in Pakistan is a 150-year-old tradition.  Business is booming despite strict prohibition laws.  NBC's Amna Nawaz reports.     

BlackBerry services: Pakistan's blasphemy laws are regarded as the toughest in the Muslim world. But when hundreds of websites were banned in May 2010 for "blasphemous content'" that was appearing on social networks, Pakistan decided to do away with BlackBerry services, too. 

Cellphones: This year saw Pakistan's  interior minister slam a blanket ban on cellphone services across the country to prevent handsets being used to detonate suicide bombs. On at least two religious occasions in 2012, Eid and Ashura, when terrorist attacks were expected, almost 120 million Pakistanis couldn't use their cellphones, even in case of emergency. 

Arif Ali / AFP - Getty Images, file

Pakistani Christians shout slogans as they protest against the movie 'The Da Vinci Code' in Lahore on June 3, 2006. The screen adaptation for the bestselling book by the same name -- starring Tom Hanks as the professor who comes across the Jesus Christ/Mary Magdalene union imagined by author Dan Brown -- was banned in 2004.

'Da Vinci Code, The': The screen adaptation for the bestselling "The Da Vinci Code," starring Tom Hanks as the professor who comes across the Jesus Christ/Mary Magdalene union imagined by author Dan Brown, was banned in 2004. 

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Erotica: In 2011, the country's Internet regulator placed a blanket ban on thousands of pornography sites.  Meanwhile, print and DVD/CD formats of porn are available across the country, and the country manages to maintain an underground porn industry.

Food [& Beverages]: As in much of the Muslim world, pork products are banned in Pakistan. But 2012 saw even some "Halal" products boycotted by a lawyers' association in Lahore as well the campus of a major university because they were made by Shezan foods, a brand owned by Pakistan's minority Ahmadi sect. (Ahmadis don't think that Mohammad is Islam's final prophet and have been persecuted by successive Pakistani governments for such ideas.) Other products, including Pepsi, were also boycotted for being "Jewish."

Gambling: Once legal, gambling is now banned (thanks in large part to late prime minister Bhutto's attempts to appease the religious right in the late 1970s). However, Pakistan is a joint capital (with India) of the lucrative illegal cricket betting industry in which millions bet billions, especially when archrivals India and Pakistan play. 

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images, file

Ali Azmat and Salman Ahmad of the rock band Junoon perform in Mumbai, India, in December 2003. The popular band and all musicians with long hair were banned in the 1990s.

Hair: In his own bid to transform what was left of secular Pakistan after the Islamist Zia regime, the 1990s saw prime minister Nawaz Sharif (tipped to be the next premier in upcoming elections) try to implement selective Shariah law by banning popular rock band, Junoon, and all musicians with long hair. The ban on Junoon was politically inspired, as it had campaigned for the financial accountability of those in elected office.  But it all proved to be rather cosmetic. Rock and roll continued to flourish in Pakistan, and the shutdown only helped Junoon polish off their bad-boy image until they broke up. Meanwhile, Sharif got a hair transplant. The 2000s, however, saw a more complicated and violent hair ban, this time implemented in Pakistan's northwest by Taliban militants, who even bombed and fined barber shops for shaving men.

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India: The world's largest democracy enjoys a special place in the Islamic Republic's banning regime. Some bans look to be permanent, including all Indian news channels, certain news websites and books, and all printed newspapers and magazines (India reciprocates most of these bans). 

Muhammed Muheisen / AP

Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Jokes: Forwarding a joke via text message, email or blog can result in a 14-year prison sentence. But only if it targets the country's leadership. 

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Kites: The centuries-old spring festival of kite flying, Basant, based out of Pakistan's cultural capital Lahore, was also banned by the Supreme Court in 2005 when petitions were filed highlighting the dangerous after-effects of kite flying, including death by strangulation. The Supreme Court reversed the ban earlier this year.

Carl De Souza / AFP/Getty Images

A boy flies a kite on a hill overlooking a large relief camp run by The National Rural Support Program in September 2010.

LGBT rights: Rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are curbed by social taboos in the Islamic Republic, but Pakistan's laws don't help either. The colonial-era Pakistan Penal Code of 1860, designed by the British, imposes a prison sentence for sodomy. But while lesbians have been low-profile in their run-ins with the law of the land, Pakistani transgenders made history in 2012 by successfully lobbying for a landmark Supreme Court judgment in their favor that allows them to both identify themselves and vote as a third sex -- transgender, and not male or female, as they were forced to in the past.

Minorities: First legally pronounced to be non-Muslims in the 1970s, the persecuted Ahmadi sect was further limited in its actions and exercise of religious freedoms by several laws in the 1980s. They were not allowed to say the Muslim greeting aloud, nor call their houses of worship mosques. Ahmadis continue to be targets of notorious blasphemy laws, under which other religious minorities, particularly Christians, are also targeted. 

Nipples: Customs agents usually redact images of female nipples from foreign publications available on local newsstands. Bottoms usually are overlooked, but full-frontal nudity is not.

Osama: As the embarrassment of Operation Neptune Spear set in after May 2011, Pakistani authorities first cordoned off Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound, then forbade foreigners in Abbottabad, then forbade non-Abottabadis in Abbotabad, then forbade all and sundry from visiting the location. Finally, they just razed the building.

One year after Osama bin Laden's death, questions remain about his life at the heavily guarded compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.   NBC'S Amna Nawaz reports. 

Parties: According to the regulators of the largest housing authority in Pakistan's largest city, "Marriages Ceremony," "Dance Party," and "Musical Evenings" are not allowed for citizens inside their own homes. However, "Birthday Party" and "Quran Khwani / Dars" (Quran recitals and religious lectures) are. 

Quran burning: Pakistan's blasphemy laws, considered the toughest in the Islamic world, carry a potential death sentence for anyone insulting Islam. When a Christian teenage girl with limited learning abilities was accused of burning and desecrating the Quran, riots and controversy followed as the case of young Rimsha, initially charged with blasphemy, developed into a complicated legal battle. But it soon became became evident that an imam, who wanted Christians like Rimsha out of his neighborhood, had planted evidence on her. 

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Raymond Davis (along with other intelligence contractors and diplomats): When CIA contractor Raymond Davis shot and killed two petty criminals in broad daylight in Lahore in January 2011, the anti-American uproar was so severe that the United States had to dispatch its best diplomats, including John Kerry, to negotiate his release. And although Davis was let go only through the traditional Islamic method of payment of blood money to the victims' relatives, Pakistan subsequently clamped down on the movement and deployment of all Western diplomats, officials and contractors. Today, if you work for the U.S., or the Argentinian, or the Jamaican embassy, you will have to obtain a "No Objection Certificate" to attend a dinner if it's even one town over from where you are stationed.

Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who was charged with fatally shooting two men in Pakistan, has been released from prison after relatives of the victims agreed to a deal. NBC's Carol Grisanti reports.

Social media: With almost 20 million Internet connections that reach even deep inside the volatile tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan, Pakistani authorities have tried in vain to regulate social media. And although Facebook recently shut down a page used for recruiting by the Pakistani Taliban, the government has never directly acted to disconnect those who support terror via social networks. 

Demonstrators shout slogans and wave placards as they protest against Facebook in Lahore in May 2010.

Shawls: In what was dubbed by the national press as the most desperate of recently taken security measures, a district in Pakistan's northwest actually banned coats and shawls, even in the dead of winter, under British colonial-era law designed for maintaining public discipline and security. The reason: their possible use to hide suicide jackets under the bulky clothing during a sensitive religious holiday.

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Urinating: The absence of public toilets across the country, as well as the spread and social acceptance of a rural 'go anywhere' culture has created a messy challenge for government after government in Pakistan: how to stop millions from answering the call of nature when and where they please. The answer? A national ban, with threat of prosecution.

Vaccinations: Days before 161,000 children were about to inoculated for polio this summer, the Taliban banned the vaccination campaign. Even though Pakistan remains one of the three countries in the world that still carries the debilitating virus, militants continue to target and kill anti-polio campaigners, claiming that the program is a U.S. cover for espionage, similar to the CIA using a Pakistani physician to help locate Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad last year. 

It's been a tough year for Pakistan U.S. relations. Crucial NATO supply routes have been shuttered since November, there is tension over drone strikes and now the countries are at odds over the treason conviction of the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. locate Osama Bin Laden. 

Weddings: Forget the five-course wedding dinner. Pakistan -- once the land of extravagant, multi-event weddings -- has a law that doesn't allow for more than one entrée at a wedding feast. The policy has been in place for several years but is only now being implemented earnestly by a provincial government that is focused on battling food wastage. 

More Pakistan coverage from NBC News

XXX: As porn is outlawed in Pakistan, "Tripple" is the code word nationally accepted for under-the-counter DVD and magazine purchases that are naughtier than usual.

YouTube: YouTube is the only social networking site that continues to be blanket-banned in Pakistan since its owner, Google Inc., refused to block an anti-Islamic video last September. But Vimeo, YouTube's competitor network that offers similarly "blasphemous" material, remains rather functional and legal in Pakistani cyberspace.

'Zero Dark Thirty': Though the new Kathryn Bigelow thriller is out, it probably won't be seen in a cinema near you in Pakistan. No theater has promoted the film, no television channel is carrying its trailers, and, so far, no DVD shops are selling even its pirated versions. The reason? Well, one guess. ... "Zero Dark Thirty" is military speak for 12.30 a.m., the time the Abbotabad raid targeting bin Laden commenced in May 2011.

The Oscar-winning team of director/producer Kathryn Bigelow and writer/producer Mark Boal, along with cast members Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, talk about the film based on the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden, which already has critics buzzing and is stirring up controversy.

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