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With an estimated 90 million people in 2006, the Punjab had more than 57 per cent of Pakistan's total population. Punjabis have diverse origins, but over the centuries they coalesced into a coherent ethnic group in the historic Punjab region and developed a common language, Punjabi. Today most Punjabis prefer to read and write in Pakistan's official language, Urdu, and their language-based ethnic identity is relatively weak. Many Punjabis are farmers in the fertile valley of Punjab Province. Punjabis also predominate in the military and the federal government. Punjab domestic product is around Rs 4628 billion, about 60 per cent of Pakistan's Rs 7,713 billion. This translates into per capita income of just above Rs 51,400 per capita, or $857.7.

The region known in modern times under the name of the Punjab, is remarkably well defined by geographical limits. In the north it has the Pir-Panjal range of the vast Himalaya mountains; on the west, the Khybur and Soliman ranges, and the great river Indus, which runs almost due south to the Indian Ocean, being the eastern boundary; while on the south and east, the river Sutluj separates it from the territories of what was once British India. Punjab is the vast fertile region located in the North-west of the South Asian subcontinent. Punjab remained the cradle of the Indus valley civilization, one of the oldest in the world. Because of its vast economic resources, strategic position and indefatigable manpower, Punjab occupied a unique position since the ancient times.

Five large streams, the arteries of the Indus, traverse this region, and divide it into four doabs, as the tracts inclosed betwixt the forks of two rivers are termed in the country [Do-ab, 'two rivers,' i. e. the tract which intervenes betwixt two rivers; corresponding to the Greek Mesopotamia]. They give to it the name of Punjab, or "Country of the Five Rivers" - the Persian words Punj means five and Aab means water.

Thus the province is meaningfully called, the land of five rivers; the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Sutlej and the Beas. There are, in fact, six rivers instead of five; but, as the Indus was much dreaded by the religious classes, and was considered the sacred boundary of India to the far west, the ancients seem to have disregarded it in giving the country its present name. By another account, the rivers, in their succession eastward from the Indus, are the Jelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas, and the Sutluj. The five streams are considered to include the Indus and exclude the Beas, on account of its short course.

A delineation of these rivers is necessary, not only because they form the principal features in the topography of the Province, but because their importance, from a military as well as from a political and mercantile point of view, has been admitted from the remotest antiquity to the present day.

A geographical description of the country will most properly commence with a delineation of the courses and characters of these great streams, which are not only its distinguishing physical features, enabling historians to verify the earliest authentic accounts of this territory, recorded by the historians of Alexander the Great, who marched across the entire country of the Punjab; but which possess much importance in respect to the political, military, commercial, and agricultural relations of the country.

In the course of history Punjab has had several names. In the Vedic period, the province was known as Sapta Sindhva, the land of the seven rivers. During the Greek period, the boundaries of the Punjab were confined to five rivers and they called it Pentapotamia, meaning five rivers. In the Mahabharala it is referred as Taka Desh, i.e., country of Takas, and Saka Divpa, i.e., country of Sakas. According to the Harsha Chanta, written as late as the seventh century AD, west Punjab bore the title of Huna Desh i.e., Country of the Huns. Before the Mughalperiod it was known as Punjnad, i.e. country of five waters and finally during the Mughal period this region was known as Punjab.

The Punjab plain comprises mainly the province of Punjab. It is the gift of River Indus and its five eastern tributaries- Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas. The plain spreads from the south of Potohar plateau up to Mithankot, where Sulaiman Range approaches river Indus. The Punjab plain is almost a featureless plain with a gentle slope southward averaging one foot to the mile. The only break in the alluvial monotony is the little group of broken hills (100 ft-1,600ft.) near Sangla and Irana on either side of the Chenab. The entire plain is extensively irrigated by a network of canals. This system has been greatly expanded and improved in recent years by the construction of link-canals, dams and barrages as a result of the Indus Water Treaty with India, which awarded the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) to Pakistan, and the three eastern rivers (Ravi,Sutlej and Beas) to India.

Tarbela Dam on river Indus and Mangla Dam on River Jhelum, which have water storage capacities of 11.1 million acre ft. and 5.55 million acre ft. respectively, need a special mention. Irrigation water is supplemented by summer and winter rains (15-20 inches) so that a variety of crops is raised, the major one being wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane. The region has earned the name of granary of Pakistan. However, the blessings of canal irrigation have not been without a curse, which render about 100,000 acres of land unproductive every year through water-logging and salinity. The menace has been greatly controlled through salinity control and reclamation projects. Agricultural development boosted urbanization and industrialization so that the region has emerged as the most important economically developed area of Pakistan, containing over 56 per cent of the population and most of the commercial and industrial centres of the country, such as Lahore (2,922,000), Faisalabad (1,092.000), Multan (730,000), Gujranwala (596,000), Sialkot (297,000) and Gujrat (154,000).

The south eastern section of the region known as Cholistan is under-developed. This tract is parched and thirsty. The summer temperature average 51.7oC and the area remains under the grip of extremely hot winds. The surface of this desert consists of a succession of sand dunes rising in places to a height of 500 ft. with vegetation peculiar to sandy tracts. There is no soil down to the lowest depth except sand; bitter water is, however, sometimes found at depth of about 80-100 ft.

The Potohar Upland, commonly called the Potohar Plateau, lies to the south of northern mountains and is flanked in the west by River Indus and in the east by River Jhelum. This 1,000-2,000 ft.(305-610 m) upland is a typical arid landscape with denuded and broken terrain characterised by undulations and irregularities. These are a few outlying spurs of Salt Range in the south, and those of Khair Murad and Kala Chitta Range in the north. Two seasonal streams-Rivers Haro and River Soan-flow from east to the west and after crossing the region in the north and in the middle respectively, fall in the Indus. River Kanshi traverses the eastern part of the plateau from north to south and drains into River Jhelum. These rivers and other hill torrents have cut deep valleys and are of little use for irrigation. Agriculture is thus almost entirely dependent on rainfall of 15-20 inches and on the small dams built in the catchment areas of the streams.

Fields of wheat, barley, jowar, bajra and pulses are found in valley bottoms and on the terraced slopes along river banks. A new economic factor has been introduced by the establishment of a few factories in Rawalpindi and Islamabad and a large industrial area in the Taxila-Wah-Hassanabdal triangle, where a large cement factory was already in existence. The region is particulary known for its oilfields in Khaur-Dhulian neighbourhood, the ancient civilization sites in Soan valley, the ruins and the Buddhist University at Taxila and the new capital, Islamabad, which stands north of the old city of Rawalpindi (806,000) at the southern slops of Murree hills, the popular Holiday resort of the country. Salt Range The ramparts of the Salt Range stretching from east to west in the south separate potohar upland from the Punjab plain. The average height of the Salt Range is about 700 metres, but near Sakesar in Sargodha district, it rises to 1,500 metres, making summer pleasant. The southern face is remarkably steep, dissected and intensely arid. But, the northern slope is gentle and has sparse vegetation of oleanders and wild olives. The top of the range is a narrow belt of isolated plateaus and basins, where, sparse stunted trees and fields of wheat and maize are found. However, the real importance of the salt mines lies in the large deposits of pure salt at Khewra and Kalabagh and the large seams of coal at Dandot and Makerwal.

Most Punjabis trace their ancestry to pre-Islamic Jat and Rajput castes. However, as they intermarried with other ethnic groups who came to the area, certain qaums (clan or tribal groups) came to predominate, especially Gujjars, Awans, Arains, and Khokkars in northern Punjab, and Gilanis, Gardezis, Qureshis, and Abbasis in the south. Other Punjabis trace their heritage to Arabia, Persia, Balochistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. Thus, in contrast with many other areas, where people often remained isolated, Punjabis had very diverse origins. The extent of this diversity facilitated their coalescence into a coherent ethnic community that has historically placed great emphasis both on farming and on fighting.

In censuses taken in British India, Punjabis were typically divided into "functional castes" or "agricultural tribes." The word caste, however, is grounded in the Hindu notions of reincarnation and karma; Muslims totally reject these religious connotations and use the term qaum instead. Tribal affiliation, based on descent and occupational specialization, tends to merge in Punjab into a qaum identity. An occupational group typically claims descent from a single ancestor, and many tribes traditionally followed a single occupation. The traditional occupation gives the group its name as well as its general position in the social hierarchy.

An important aspect of Punjabi ethnicity is reciprocity at the village level. A man's brother is his friend, his friend is his brother, and both enjoy equal access to his resources. Traditionally, a person has virtually free access to a kinsman's resources without foreseeable payback. This situation results in social networks founded on local (kinship-based) group needs as opposed to individual wants. These networks in turn perpetuate not only friendly relations but also the structure of the community itself. There is great social pressure on an individual to share and pool such resources as income, political influence, and personal connections. Kinship obligations continue to be central to a Punjabi's identity and concerns. Distinctions based on qaum remain significant social markers, particularly in rural areas.

Starting with the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Punjab's landed aristocracy developed a close association with the British rulers. The help they provided to the British to overcome the challenge that was posed by the Sepoy Mutiny in and around the Gangetic valley left the rulers in a state of considerable obligation to the Punjab's landed families. By way of compensation, they provided these families with land grants as well as access to jobs in the colonial administration. In return for these favors the families continued to support the British administration even when the independence movement gained momentum in the rest of India. Of the five provinces that were to become part of Pakistan in 1947, Punjab was the only one that was late in endorsing Muhammad Ali Jinnah's demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state. Punjab's Unionist Party remained opposed to the creation of Pakistan right up to its electoral defeat in 1946. It was only at the mid-point of Ayub Khan's tenure as president in the 1960s that the landed class gained re-entry to the political stage. By having been kept out, the landed aristocracy lost considerable influence in the corridors of economic policymaking. A new socio-economic class - the merchant-industrialists - emerged in the meantime.

Punjabis predominate in the upper echelons of the military and civil service and in large part run the central government. This situation is resented by many Pakhtuns, Baloch, and, particularly by Sindhis, whose numbers and wealth are comparatively small and who are proportionately underrepresented in public positions. Particularly galling to Sindhis is the fact that the muhajirs, who live mainly in their province, are the only overrepresented group in public positions, which is generally traceable to better education in India prior to migrating in 1947. In the early 1980s, tensions mounted between Punjabis and Sindhis because the latter group was feeling alienated from the state. The capital had been moved from Karachi (in Sindh) to Islamabad (in northern Punjab) and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (from Sindh) was not only ousted but hanged.

Of the three most prominent national politicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, two were Punjabis: President Zia ul-Haq and Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. Only Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan People's Party leader and prime minister from October 1993, was Sindhi.

Violence has increased in Punjab Province. Since September 2007, several suicide operations have taken place, including attacks in Rawalpindi and Lahore. As a precaution against these possible dangers, U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid public transportation and crowded areas. The Wagah border crossing into India near Lahore remained open daily (from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) for travel to and from India if the passport holder has a valid visa for both countries. Visitors are advised to confirm the current status of the border crossing prior to commencing travel.

Violence has further increased in Punjab Province since 2010. On October 25, 2010, a bomb exploded in the eastern gate of the Baba Farid Shrine in the Pakpattan district of Lahore, killing six persons and injuring several others. Suicide bombing attacks and political violence continue to occur throughout the country on a regular basis, often targeting government authorities such as police checkpoints and military installations, as well as public areas such as mosques and shopping areas. On September 1, 2010, 33 persons were killed and over 150 injured in three back-to-back suicide bomb blasts during a Shia procession in Lahore. Two days later, 73 persons were killed and 160 injured in a suicide bombing at a rally organized by the Shia Imamia Students Organization in Quetta. On December 25, 2010, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a checkpoint outside a food distribution center in Khar, Bajaur Agency, killing at least 43 and injuring 72. On January 4, 2011, well known Governor of Punjab Province Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in the Kohsar Market area of Islamabad. On March 2, Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, was also gunned down on the outskirts of Islamabad. On January 25, 2011, an attack on a Shia procession in Lahore reportedly killed 11 people and injured 50. On March 8, an attack on a gas station in Faisalabad reportedly killed at least 20 people and injured over 120.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:16:01 ZULU