Profile of Province Punjab in Pakistan



Pakistan Punjab. Wikipedia Commons

Dr. Rajkumar Singh     4/4/2018


The name ‘Punjab’ is compound of two Persian words Panj (five) and ab (water) and was introduced to the region by the Turko-Persian conquerers of India and more formally popularised during the Mughal Empire. Punjab means “The Land of Five Rivers” referring to the rivers: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, and Beas. It is the second largest province of the country spread over 205,344 kilometers after Balochistan and is located in the northwestern edge of the Indian geologic plate in South Central Asia. The capital and largest city are Lahore which was the historical capital of the wider Punjab region. Other important district cities include Multan, Faisalabad, Sheikhpura, Sialkot, Gujranwala, Jhelum and Rawalpindi. Nearly 60% of Pakistan’s population lives in Punjab. The geographical position and a large multi-ethnic population strongly influence Punjab’s outlook on the national affair and induces in Panjab a keen awareness of the problems of Pakistan’s other important provinces and territories. With an estimated population of 110,012,442 as of 2017, it is bordered by the Pakistan provinces of Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It also shares borders with the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.

Punjab has been inhabited since ancient times, and Indus Valley Civilization, dating to 2600 BCE was first discovered at Harappa. In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated King Porus at the battle of the Hydaspes near Mong, Punjab. It was later invaded by Tamerlane, Babur, and Nader Shah. But Punjab reached the height of its splendor during the reign of the Mughal Empire, which for a time ruled from Lahore. Following a successful rebellion, Sikh-led armies claimed Lahore in 1759. Punjab also remained central to the independence movements of both India and Pakistan, with Lahore being the site of both declaration of Indian Independence and the resolution calling for the establishment of Pakistan. The province was formed when the Punjab province of British India was divided along religious boundaries in 1947 by the Radcliff Line after partition (Dalrymple, 2015). Now it became West Punjab and East Punjab. Western Punjab was assimilated into the new country of Pakistan, while East Punjab became part of modern-day India. The part of the Punjab now in Pakistan was a major region of British Punjab and was home to a large minority Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India while Muslim refugees from India settled in the Western Punjab and across Pakistan.


Today, Punjab has the largest economy which contributes 57.5% to Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product, followed by Sindh 27%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 8%, Balochistan 3%, Azad Kashmir 2.3% and Gilgit-Baltistan 1.5% respectively. In fact, its economy has diversified base spanning from agriculture to telecommunication, information technology manufacturing industry, engineering, steel, chemicals, and construction materials. Over the last 65 years, Punjab’s economy has done better than the average for Pakistan. For the final quarter of the 20th century, the provincial product grew at a rate 0.1 percent more than the national average; 5.1 percent a year compared to five percent for Pakistan as a whole. According to the annual report published by the Lahore-based Institute of Public Policy, an interesting finding was observed about the relative rates of economic growth for Pakistan taken as a whole for the province of Punjab. The province does much better than the country when the economy is moving at a sluggish pace. For instance, in the relatively sluggish 1990s, when the national product increased at a rate of 4.4 percent a year, Punjab’s gross income increased at a rate of 4.8 percent (Burki, 2012). Likewise, its share in agriculture is larger than the national average.


The economy of Punjab is mainly agriculture-based, although industry makes a substantial contribution. Despite its dry climate, extensive irrigation makes it a rich agricultural region. The province is playing a leading role in agricultural production. It contributes about 63740.4 thousand tonnes which are about 59.85 percent towards total agricultural production in the country. Commodity wise Punjab is contributing 74.12 percent cereals, 81.75 percent pulses, 55.45 percent cash crops, 9.39 percent edible oil, 59.95 percent fruits and 77.54 percent vegetables of the total production of these commodities at the national level (Badar, 2007). Total agricultural production of Punjab over the years has also increased considerably. Majority of farmers in the Punjab are small with land holdings up to 5 hectares, and owners of such farms are practicing subsistence farming under deficit as their yield of major crops is far less than the progressive farms. However, the agricultural sector in recent past has initiated its journey towards commercialization, but this sector has not yet become fully self-supportive. Farming community lacks proper knowledge and is not properly equipped to meet the challenges of modern agriculture and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Majority of farmers are illiterate and are unable to make rational decisions on their own and need institutional support.

Since independence, Punjab also industrialized rapidly and in later years new factories were established in Lahore, Sargodha, Multan, Gujarat, Gujranwala, Sialkot, and Wah. Now it is Pakistan’s most industrialized province with the industrial sector making up to 24% of the province’s gross domestic product (Planning Development Department 2015). Punjab is known in Pakistan for its relative prosperity and has the lowest rate of poverty amongst all Pakistani provinces. A clear divide is present between the northern and southern portions of the province with poverty rates in prosperous northern Punjab amongst the lowest in Pakistan, while some in south Punjab are among the most impoverished. Punjab is also one of South Asia’s most urbanized regions with approximately 40% of people living in urban areas. Its human development index rankings are high relative to the rest of Pakistan.

Table-1 Historical Population Figures


Census Population Urban Rural
1951 20,540,762 3,568,076 16,972,686
1961 25,463,974 5,475,922 19,988,052
1972 37,607,423 9,182,695 28,424,728
1981 47,292,441 13,051,646 34,240,795
1998 73,621,290 23,019,025 50,602,265
2017 110,012,615 70,008,451 40,401,164


The major ethnic groups of Pakistan in numerical size include: Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Siddis, Saraikis, Muhajirs, Baloch, Hindkowans, Chitralis Gujarati and other smaller groups such as Kashmiris, Kalash, Burusho, Khowar, Hazara, Shina, Kalyu, and Balti are found in the northern parts of the country. Among them, Punjabis in Pakistan are an Indo-Aryan group of people and can be divided into sub-clans. Although the Nuristanis constitute another sub grouping amongst the Indo-Iranian peoples but are not indigenous to Pakistan. Punjabis speak the language called Punjabi, a northwestern Indo-Aryan Language. They have many different dialects, and that depends on what region of Punjab they are from. They makeup 78.7 million (45%) of Pakistan’s total population and are divided into several tribes such as Arain, Awan, Rajput, Gujar, Jat (Nazir 1993). Also, Punjabi Muslims are a linguistic, geographic and religious ethnic group living in the region of Punjab, found between eastern Pakistan and northern India. Forming the majority of Punjabi ethnicity at large Punjabi Muslims are those who profess Islam and speak the Punjabi language. With a population of more than 90 million, they are the largest ethnic group in Pakistan and the third largest Muslim ethnicity after the Arabs and Bengalis. The majority of Punjabi Muslims are adherents of the Sunni branch of Islam. The homelands of Punjabi Muslims are mainly concentrated in the Pakistani province of Punjab.



Languages Spoken in Punjab

Name of Language Spoken in %
Punjabi 75.2%
Saraiki 17.4%
Urdu 4.5%
Pashto 1.2%
Balochi 0.7%
Sindhi 0.1%
Others 0.9%



Religions in Punjab

Religions Followers in %
Islam 97.21%
Christianity 2.31%
Others (Sikhs, Parsis and Hindus) 0.48%

The Punjabis found in Pakistan belong to groups known as biradaris. Also, Punjabi society is divided into two divisions, the Zamindar groups or qoums, traditionally associated with farming and moeens, who are traditional artisans. Some Zamindars are further divided into groups such as the Rajputs, Jats, Shaikhs, or Muslim Khatris, Gujjars, Awans, Arains, and Syeds. People from neighboring regions, such as Kashmiris, Pashtuns, and Baluch, also form a sizeable portion of the Punjabi population. A large number of Punjabis descend from the groups historically associated with skilled profession and crafts such as Sunar, Lohar, Kumhar, Tarkhan, Julaha, Mochi, Hajjam, Chhimba Darzi, Teli, Lalari, Mallaah, Dhobi, and Mirasi. Punjabi people have traditionally and historically been farmers and soldiers which have transferred into modern times with their dominance of agriculture and military fields in Pakistan. Also, they have been quite prominent politically, having had many elected members of Parliament.

Until 1947, the province of united Punjab was ruled by a coalition comprising the Indian National Congress, the Sikh-led Shiromani Akali Dal, and the Unionist Muslim League. However, the growth of Muslim nationalism led to the All India Muslim League becoming the dominant party in the 1946 elections. As Muslim separatism increased, the opposition from Punjabis Hindus and Sikhs increased substantially. Communal violence on the eve of Indian independence led to the dismissal of the coalition government, although the succeeding League ministry was unable to form the government and secure majority. Along with the province of Bengal, Punjab was partitioned on religious lines-the Muslim-majority West becoming part of the new Muslim state of Pakistan, and the Hindu and Sikh East remaining in India. West Punjab was virtually cleansed of its Hindu and Sikh populations, who were forced to leave for India, while East Punjab and Delhi were virtually cleansed of their Muslim population.

Political Status of Punjab After 1947

In fact, the absence of central-state apparatus in the territories constituting Pakistan gave it a different turn not only in initial years but also after that. As a consequence province continued to be the main arena of politics. Those engaged in constructing and managing the new central government apparatus were politicians with the weakest or no social bases of support in the province and they were not able to stand their ground against civil servants trained in the true tradition of colonial bureaucratic authoritarianism (Jalal, 1995). This tilting in the balance of power from the political to the administrative arms of the state bent relations between the center and the provinces out of shape and also provided a pretext for incessant bickerings between Punjabis and the non-Punjabis ( Bose and Jalal, 2004). The ensuing tussle between the center and the provinces augured poorly for the political process.

Earlier too, during the British administration, Punjabis showed the most promise in the region, and they were considered by them as the most quickly adaptive of British military operations and practices and therefore best serve their interests (Hurst, 1996). As a result, the British most often chose Punjabis for recruitment in the British colonial armies-shortly after partition, Punjabis constituted 66 percent of Pakistan’s army. Their predominance in the military, in turn, led to the formation of a Punjabi elite class, whose greater access to education and influential positions in the government paved the way for later Punjabi control of the bureaucracies and government departments. An example of the clout that the Punjabis have wielded to Pakistani politics is evident in the decision to move Pakistan’s capital from Karachi to Sindh to Islamabad in the Punjab during Ayub Khan’s regime. As the most powerful and highly compensated ethnicity in Pakistan’s government, the Punjabis are often the targets of the other ethnicities of Pakistan. Many of the disenfranchised view the Punjabis as having received a greater share of Pakistan’s wealth that is their due.  In line initially, the idea of One Unit System was floated and later piloted by the Punjabi clout.

As a result of the ‘One Unit Scheme,’ all the provinces of West Pakistan was treated as a single province from 14 October 1955 to 30 June 1970, and the province of Punjab took birth, in its present form on 1 July 1970. Earlier in case of Punjab, there was direct governor rule in 1949-1951, when the provincial chief minister of that time was removed and assemblies dissolved. The Governor of Punjab is appointed the head of state of the provincial government. The governor is designated by the Prime Minister and is normally regarded a ceremonial post. However, throughout the history of Pakistan, the powers of provincial governors were vastly increased, when the provincial assemblies were dissolved, and the administrative role came under direct control of the governors, as in the cases of martial laws of 1958-1972 and 1977-1985, and governor rules of 1999-2002. The first governor of Punjab was Sir Francis Mudie when it was first formed on 15 August 1947, while the incumbent is Malik Muhammad Rafique Rajwana continuing since 7 May 2015.

The Provincial Assembly of Punjab is a unicameral legislature of elected representatives of the province of Punjab. In government, the unicameral legislature is the practice of having one legislative or parliamentary chamber. The unicameral legislature, called Assembly is located in Lahore.  It was established under Article 106 of the Constitution of Pakistan as having a total of 371 seats with 66 seats reserved for women and eight reserved for non-Muslims. Further, according to clause 2-A of Article 130, the Governor of a province invites the member of the Provincial Assembly to be the Chief Minister who commands the confidence of the majority of the members of the Provincial Assembly as ascertained in the session of the Assembly summoned for the purpose in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. As per constitutional provision, the last election held in province Punjab in May 2013 and Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League is the Chief Minister of Punjab since 8 June 2013.

It is commonly said that Punjab is synonymous with Pakistan, and vice versa, which seems to relegate the other provinces and autonomous regions to the status of outliers. From the start in politics, Pakistan’s elites, political, bureaucratic and military have long hailed from Punjab and shaped the country’s policies to the Province’s advantage. Till recently (2009), Punjab received the lion’s share of national revenues simply by having the largest population, never mind its actual needs or contributions to the national budget. Also, the government and military have long allotted prime agricultural land and urban real estate in other parts of Pakistan to Punjabi officers and senior bureaucrats (Yusuf, 2014). But on the other, Punjab itself is not a monolith. Some of the Province’s southern districts are among the country’s poorest, and their inhabitants have grudges of their own against Lahore-based politicians. Water and energy shortages kept Punjab’s economic growth rate at 2.5 percent between 2007 and 2011, compared with 3.4 percent for the country overall.

Also, these resentments animate the politics of Pakistan’s other provinces and threaten national unity. A separatist movement in Baluchistan tapped grievances against Punjabis, and they say that Punjabis are exploiting Baluch gas and mineral resources to spur industrial growth in the province. Concerns about Punjabi domination had soared since the spring of 2013 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League was returned to power for the third time. He belongs to a Lahore-based industrial family with close ties to Punjab’s business elite and a can-do-attitude to governance that features flashy development schemes. This apart, Punjab has been able to progress because it has been relatively unimpeded by terrorism. Earlier in 2008, Shabaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother and Punjab’s Chief Minister appealed to the Pakistani Taliban not to attack the province, and the request was largely heeded. Likewise, the PMLN government at the center started pushing for peace talks with the Taliban. In line, the central government is considering concessions, including swamping prisoners, granting an amnesty to Taliban fighters and even giving the group a political role in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis describe the policies as a ploy to sacrifice the tribal areas to save Lahore. Such perceptions only heighten inter-provincial tensions, just at a time when the county needs to be more united than ever.