Diminishing Punjab

The rapid expansion of the Russian Empire was viewed with consternation by the British and led to the adoption of Forward Policy. In 1900, the North West Frontier areas of Punjab were detached and put under the charge of a chief commissioner by Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, despite furious opposition by the lieutenant governor of the province.
This was done purely on administrative grounds but unwittingly Lord Curzon not only fractured geography but opened the floodgates of ethnicity. When the capital of India was moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912, Punjab lost not only the symbol of Muslim power in the subcontinent but also its multilingual and multiethnic character. In 1947 the province was divided on communal, basis which resulted in enormous loss of life and property and caused large-scale migration of populations.

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BY CREATING SARAIKI / BAHAWALPUR PROVINCES, POLITICIANS ARE NOW INTENT ON FURTHER MUTILATION OF PUNJAB

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by Ashraf Rashid Siddiqi

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Pity the nation divided into fragments. Each fragment deeming itself a nation.

— Khalil Gibran

At the time of Partition, British India comprised 11 provinces, including Punjab.

The natural routes for invaders from ancient times were across the great mountain ranges in the northwest. The brunt of the invasions was invariably borne by Punjab, which has remained a perpetual zone of conflict and been ruled by one foreign power or the other.

The capture of an Arab ship by pirates near Debal led to the invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 711 AD. But his early recall and execution checked further conquest. Indeed, it was not before the lapse of three centuries that our province faced the onslaught of Muslim armies. Mahmud Ghaznavi marched to the plains of Punjab through the Khyber Pass and invaded India 12 times between 1001 and 1023 AD. The honour of establishing Muslim rule in India, more than a-century-and-a-half later, however, belongs to Shahabuddin Ghori. After some initial setbacks he succeeded in annexing Punjab and Sindh.

Punjab has always remained on the boil, but the period encompassing a century from the rise of Afghan power (1748) till Punjab’s annexation by the British (1849) can be called the blackest chapter in the history of this province. The unceasing military contests between the four powers-the Mughals, the Marhatas, the Pathans and the Sikhs – caused immense misery to the people. Accounts of betrayal, fraud, intrigue and corruption on the one hand and destruction, pillaging, enslavement, plunder and desecration on the other, present a most obnoxious and revolting picture of the times.

In the meantime, India was faced with a new kind of invasion. The seafaring nations of Europe – Portugal, Holland, France and Britain – were competing with each other to monopolise the lucrative trade with India and the East Indies. The British prevailed over the other contenders and by 1800 were in full control of the three Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. Their conquest proceeded from the south to the north. In the Second Sikh War, Gen Gough destroyed the Sikh army at the battle of Gujrat, which led to the annexation of Punjab in 1849. This was the last province to be annexed. The British occupation proved a great blessing and the following 99 years were an era of peace and prosperity for Punjab.

Cartography was not unknown to the Mughals but the few extant maps of the period are unscientific and rudimentary. With the setting up of the Survey Department by the East India Company in 1767 at Calcutta, our knowledge about the boundaries of various parts of the country improves tremendously. The first Skeleton Map of the Punjab and Surrounding Countries compiled in the office of the surveyor general of India in September 1872 determines the boundaries of the province exactly.

At this juncture the province consisted of 6 Divisions, namely Delhi, Jallandur, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and the Derajat. There were 31 districts in all, the largest number, seven, belonging to Delhi and the smallest, three, to Peshawar.

Lying on the cross-roads of history Punjab is inhabited by descendants of numerous invaders from the time of the Aryan migration some 5,000 years ago. In more recent history the province has seen rulers like Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Pathans, Sikhs and the British. The majority of the population, of course, comprised Muslim converts, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhist and Parsis. They all strived for power and pelf but no one left the territory or divided it.

The rapid expansion of the Russian Empire was viewed with consternation by the British and led to the adoption of Forward Policy. In 1900, the North West Frontier areas of Punjab were detached and put under the charge of a chief commissioner by Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, despite furious opposition by the lieutenant governor of the province. This was done purely on administrative grounds but unwittingly Lord Curzon not only fractured geography but opened the floodgates of ethnicity.

When the capital of India was moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912, Punjab lost not only the symbol of Muslim power in the subcontinent but also its multilingual and multiethnic character. In 1947 the province was divided on communal, basis which resulted in enormous loss of life and property and caused large-scale migration of populations.

To gain advantage, the so-called politicians are now intent on further mutilating the province by carving out Saraiki and Bahawalpur provinces. Administrative reconfiguration is different from political division; the former can unite the people but the latter has invariably resulted in acrimony and human suffering. The only gainers will be a few politicians and bureaucrats who will occupy the posts of governors, chief ministers, ministers, chief secretaries, inspectors general of police, etc. A diminished Punjab would in fact mean a diminished Pakistan.

The writer is a retired chief secretary.

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Attock Railway Bridge opened for traffic on 24th May 1883. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarfrazh/356271295/
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Published in: on 18/06/2012 at 6:36 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Assumption that giving power to the people will weaken the country is a flawed one. Pakistan is not a nation state, its a mix of nations-with distinct languages, cultures, and inspiration – living for thousands of years in areas comprising Pakistan. And as such each of them has a right to self rule.

  2. […] Diminishing Punjab 2. More subas? — I 3. The dangers of new provinces 4. What if Punjab is too large? 5. Before breaking up Punjab, please care to read this….. […]

  3. […] Diminishing Punjab 2. More subas? — I 3. The dangers of new provinces 4. Will more provinces lead to a vivisection of the Nation State of Pakistan 5. What if Punjab is too large? 6. Before breaking up Punjab, please care to read this….. […]

  4. […] to a vivisection of the Nation State of Pakistan 2. Rationale for the Saraiki province 3. Diminishing Punjab 4. More subas? — I 5. The dangers of new provinces6. What if Punjab is too […]

  5. […] Diminishing Punjab 2. More subas? — I 3. The dangers of new provinces 4. What if Punjab is too large? 5. Before breaking up Punjab, please care to read this….. […]

  6. […] Diminishing Punjab 2. More subas? — I 3. The dangers of new provinces 4. Will more provinces lead to a vivisection of the Nation State of Pakistan 5. What if Punjab is too large? 6. Before breaking up Punjab, please care to read this….. […]

  7. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking the time and actual effort
    to create a good article… but what can I say…
    I procrastinate a lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.


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