PUNJAB Its name derived from a Sanskrit word meaning "five rivers," Punjab is a culturally and physically distinct region, part of which now constitutes one of Pakistan's four provinces, and part that forms a state in the Indian Union. It is named for five major rivers—the Jhelum, Chanab, Ravi, Sutlaj and Beas—all originating in the Himalayas, that cross a large plain in the northwest corner of the Indian subcontinent.
Punjab served as the juncture of a number of the world's great civilizations. Historically, the area west of Punjab fell within the sphere of influence of the Persians, Arabs held sway to the south, and the north was subject to Turko-Mongolian influence. To the east lay the heartland of the Indian civilization. Several religious movements that found wide appeal took root in Punjab, including Buddhism, Sikhism, and several schools of Sufi Islamic thought. Ethnic diversity is also reflected in the cultural mosaic of contemporary Punjab. Its strategic location and fertile lands attracted waves of migrants to the area so that, although originally of the Aryan stock, the people of Punjab are today descendants of the Iranians, Turks, Afghans, and Arabs.
Punjab has long been a battleground fought over by competing empires, After Mughal authority declined in the subcontinent, the Persians under Nadir Shah invaded from the northwest in 1737–1738 to sack Lahore and Delhi, and to carry off such Mughal treasures as the Peacock Throne and Koh-e-Noor diamond. The Afghans also launched a series of invasions of Punjab to loot and dominate the area. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the British vigorously accelerated their territorial aggrandizement at the expense of India's Hindu and Muslims rulers, expanding their paramountcy to northwest India at mid-century.
A large and powerful Sikh state, which included all of the Punjab, was put together by Ranjit Singh (1780–1839), who in 1798 embarked on ambitious plans to expand his territory and to unite all Sikhs under his rule. He succeeded in creating a powerful Sikh state through clever diplomacy as well as the numerous wars he waged against rival Sikh princes, Muslim rulers, and Afghan invaders. Throughout his long and successful rule, he avoided conflict with the expanding British Empire. Following his death, however, civil strife among rival claimants to the throne and corruption brought on political chaos. When a Sikh army went to attack British territory in 1845, the British in a series of hard-fought battles defeated it. The British began direct rule of the Punjab after again defeating Sikh forces in a second war in 1848–1849.
The political boundaries of the Punjab were far less expansive when, in the partition of 1947, the territory was basically divided along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim western districts acceded to Pakistan, and nearly all Hindus and Sikhs fled to India in a massive population exchange. Indian East Punjab retained only a small portion of its once sizable Muslim community when an estimated 4.35 million Muslims left for Pakistan. Partitioning the Punjab resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe, with an estimated half a million people killed overall. The deep-rooted communal beliefs gave vent to violence that engulfed village after village and did not spare women and children. Some of the worst atrocities occurred in East Punjab during August 1947.
Pakistani Punjab covers 97,192 square miles (251,726 sq. km), 28.5 percent of the total area of Pakistan. Its population, according to a 1998 estimate, was 72.6 million, or approximately 56 percent of the country's total. Punjab is surrounded on the north by the North-West Frontier province (NWFP) and the Federal capital area of Islamabad. To the northeast is Azad Kashmir. To the east and south are India's Punjab and Rajasthan states. On the southeast is Pakistan's Sind province, and to the west lie Baluchistan province and the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas.
Post-independence Punjab ceased to exist as an administrative and political unit when a Constituent Assembly in 1955 combined it with Sind and the NWFP West provinces. This One-Unit Plan, designed to balance politically Pakistan's West and East (Bengali) Wings, was dissolved in 1970. The restoration of federalism occasioned Pakistan's first election on the basis of one person, one vote for national and provincial assemblies. Under the 1973 Constitution, Punjab and the other provinces also acquired the right to elect their own chief ministers, instead of having them appointed by provincial governors representing the federal government.
Punjab is often referred to as Pakistan's "heartland." Though the idea of Pakistan was initially not as warmly received among West Punjab's Muslims as in central India and Bengal, Punjab's major city, Lahore, was the site of the famous Pakistan Resolution in March 1940. Today, Lahore is considered the country's cultural and intellectual capital, as it had been under Mughal and British rule. Together with Punjab's urban centers of Faisalabad, Multan, and Rawalpindi, Lahore ranks also among Pakistan's most important commercial hubs.
Agriculture contributes the largest part of Pakistan's economy, and Punjab, known as the country's granary, makes by far the largest contribution to agricultural production and export income. Summer and winter rains can deposit 15 to 20 inches (38–50 cm) of rain across areas of the Punjab. Even so, the province's agriculture is mostly dependent on irrigation, which makes possible major crops in wheat, rice, cotton, and sugarcane. The Tarbella Dam on the Indus and the Mangala Dam on the Jhelum Canal, along with numerous barrages and canals, are key components in a system of irrigation and flood control. Canal irrigation has its downside, however. Poor water management and seepage, along with drainage problems, have resulted in severe waste and waterlogging, creating accumulated salts that make the soil uncultivable. Additionally, the southeast section of the province remains undeveloped and is extremely hot and dry.
During the British Raj, Punjab alone provided more than a quarter of army recruits, mostly Sikh and Muslim Indians. The disproportionate recruitment of Sikhs and Muslims reflected the notion that they were among the "martial races." With the creation of Pakistan, Punjabis came to dominate its army, and the other provinces were helpless to prevent Punjabis' ascendance in the country's higher civil service.
Resentment against the Punjab takes other forms as well. Sind is engaged in a virtual water war with Punjab. Sindis believe that the reason for an often dry Indus River is excessive use of water by Punjab. Baluchistan claims that it provides 50 percent of Pakistan's natural gas resources but is not given a fair share in jobs or in the allocation of funds in a federal government dominated by Punjab. Punjab is also accused of delaying a census in Pakistan for fear that it could change the distribution of resources and political power among the four provinces. Many non-Punjabi politicians, intellectuals, and journalists believe that Pakistan's periodic military interventions are taken on behalf of Punjabi interests. The transfer of the nation's capital from Karachi to northern Punjab in 1960 and the 1979 execution of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a champion of Sindi regionalism, are seen through this prism.
There have also been intraprovincial tensions. Though 90 percent of the population speaks Punjabi, Seraiki-speaking people in Multan and central Punjab have serious issues with Punjabi speakers, and Seraikis feel isolated and politically underrepresented. Punjab's 1953 anti-Ahmadiyya religious riots, which were carried out with local government officials' complicity, required military intervention. Violence between Muslim Sunni and Shiʿa militants erupted beginning in the mid-1990s. A provincial landed elite, in control of the most productive land, is held largely responsible for keeping peasants uneducated and poor.
Even then, Punjab outranks Pakistan's other provinces on a United Nations Human Development Index. Punjab has the best performance in school enrollment and educational attainment. It closely matches the NWFP for highest rank in a health index and Sind for adjusted real gross domestic product per capita. Punjab's Jhelum district stands first among all of Pakistan's districts in a composite of education, health, and wealth indexes. In overall human development, Punjab also has the lowest disparity between urban and rural districts.
Punjab has mostly given its political allegiance to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). The party, whose origins lay in a pre-independence political organization, has relied heavily on the mobilizing strength and financial support of Punjab's major landlords and industrialists. But the PML did poorly in the 1970 elections against Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and lost out to the PPP in Pakistan's discredited 1977 elections. In the four national and provincial elections between 1988 and 1997, the PML could count on all but the province's southern pro-PPP districts, and PML candidates led by Punjab's once chief minister Nawaz Sharif scored a decisive victory nationwide in 1997. A breakaway faction of PML members backing President Pervez Musharraf captured the largest share of seats for the national and provincial assembles in the 2002 elections.
Punjab occupies an area of 20,254 square miles (52,458 sq. km), 1.7 percent of India's total land area. The state's population in the 2001 census was 24.3 million, of which about a third are urban dwellers. Over 60 percent of Punjab's population is literate. Sikhs constitute upward of 60 percent of the state, with about 35 percent Hindu and 2 percent Muslim. In 1966 East Punjab was divided into three parts to form, along with a Punjabi-speaking Punjab state, the states of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, both with greater than 90 percent Hindu populations. Punjab and Haryana share a state capital at Chandigarh.
Punjab is one the most prosperous states in India. Together with Haryana, it became, beginning in 1965, the centerpiece of India's "Green Revolution," featuring the introduction on irrigated lands of high-yielding varieties of food grains. By 1980, overall crop production rose sixfold from the years following partition. Productivity gains through an input-intensive strategy have also depended on the province's adroit, independent farmers, and the incentives provided for larger producers. Newly introduced agricultural universities have offered highly valued extension services to farmers.
Punjab's Sikhs have been a restive population. Serious agitation for greater linguistic and religious separatism, political autonomy, and economic opportunities began in 1973. As a religious and ethnic group, Sikhs asked for greater recognition of their language, Punjabi, including the territorial incorporation of additional Punjabi-speaking areas from neighboring states. The leading Sikh party, Akali Dal (Eternal Party), demanded the transfer of Chandigarh, the state capital, from a union territory to Punjab. Among more symbolic demands, this nationalist, paramilitary party called for Amritsar, site of the religion's revered Golden Temple, to be designated a holy city, and for the sale of liquor and tobacco to be banned in the vicinity of the holy shrine. Punjab's farmers were deeply upset over the division of Beas and Sutlej river waters with Haryana, while a new generation of bettereducated, younger Sikhs complained about their underrepresentation in most urban and modern occupations, and the need for larger investment of central government funds in Punjab's industrialization.
Bitterness toward central authorities led to separatist and terrorist activities in what was called the Khalistani insurgency. Murder, arson, and looting were common occurrences, claiming both Hindu and Sikh victims as interfactional violence also engulfed the Sikh community. The Indian government insisted that arms and drugs from Pakistan encouraged the unrest. The conflict came to a head in May 1984 with the New Delhi government's order for troops to storm the Golden Temple complex to flush out extremists. At least 750 insurgents and army personnel were killed. Legislated mass detentions and secret tribunals to combat Sikh terrorism from a number of organizations further fueled the community's anger. In time, however, the insurgency waned with strong repressive measures by security forces and the capture of leading militants. Sikhs have shunned terrorism since the early 1990s, but many still harbor grievances, despite some concessions from the central government.
Before the division of India's Punjab, the Congress Party consistently outpolled the Akali Dal in state elections. During the 1950s, Akali Dal entered into alliances with Congress at the national level. In Punjab's first post-division state elections in 1967, an Akali-led opposition front was able to defeat Congress. Although Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's party retook the state assembly in the 1972 elections with a substantial majority, Akali Dal remained in strong competition with Congress. In 1972, defections from Congress to the Akali Dal brought the state government's fall and the imposition of President's Rule. But Congress again prevailed in elections the following year. An Akali-Janata Party alliance overwhelmed Congress in 1977, taking power in the state assembly as well as in New Delhi. Instability within the state government and increased violence led in 1984 to Punjab being placed under direct rule by the central government. When President's Rule was lifted in 1992 and the assembly restored, the Congress emerged victorious in state elections. Though by the late 1990s a moderate faction of the Akali Dal led a governing coalition, the Congress returned to power in the state in April 2002.
For almost two decades after partition, Punjabis continue to provide a preponderance of those in the army's officer corps, in the mid-1950s, as much as a third. In August–September 1965, after Pakistan tried to foment a rebellion in Indian Kashmir and penetrated the state with armored units, the Indian army responded by attacking across the international border toward Lahore. Despite the desire for greater autonomy among many Sikhs, those in the military as well as within the civilian community remained overwhelmingly loyal to India. Sikhs were rewarded by New Delhi with a Punjabi-speaking state, but the 1965 war prompted changes in recruitment patterns, leading over time to a more geographically representative Indian military.
Marvin G. Weinbaum
Blood, Peter, ed. Pakistan: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1995. A collection of essays and leading handbook on Pakistan's history, society and environment, government and politics, and national security.
Burki, Shahid Javed. Pakistan: A Nation in the Making. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1986. An excellent overview of Pakistan's formative years.
Chopra, V. D., R. K. Mishra, and Nirmal Singh, eds. Agony of Punjab. New Delhi: Patriot, 1984. A comprehensive account of the insurgency.
Cohen, Stephen P. The Pakistan Army. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. The foremost study of the Pakistan military.
Heitzman, James, and Robert L. Worden, eds. India: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1995. A useful handbook on the country's history and political institutions.
Hussain, Akmal. Pakistan: National Human Development Report, 2003. Karachi: Oxford University Press. A UNDP–sponsored report on poverty, growth, and governance, with references to specific provinces.
Weiss, Anita. Culture, Class, and Development in Pakistan. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991.
Wriggins, Howard H., ed. Pakistan in Transition. Islamabad: University of Islamabad Press, 1975.