PUNJAB must be divided into more provinces. It is ridiculous to have a province as large as Punjab, where majority of citizens have to travel more than fourteen hours to get to the provincial capital at Lahore, and in the process, are forced to deplete their health and their capital both. Punjab is the dominant province in Pakistan, area and population wise. It has come to acquire a “domineering” position in the perception of other provinces in Pakistan. It breeds ethnic antipathy and causes feeling of ethnic suffering amongst other, larger in size yet far less populated provinces. Punjab’s management is becoming difficult due to its size and will become increasingly more so in coming years as its population grows. Punjab is politically suffering from a ‘bloating’ sickness which is giving birth to attitudes that are beginning to divide its population. All of Pakistan has a population of 207, 774, 520, of which Punjab alone has 110, 012,442! Compare that to population in Pakistan’s other provinces, the rate of growth of same, and you cannot help getting frightened about where Punjab is headed while it keeps getting blown up all the time? In modern times, a citizen should not have to travel more than two to three hours to get to the capital of his/her province. This conventional wisdom lies at the heart of administrative management of populations in all civilized countries. Why do we, in Pakistan, keep sticking to the British era administrative designs, when we have outgrown the same in terms of population and resources? We must not continue to treat Punjab as a monolithic entity frozen in time and space. The unit is absorbing way more than it can hold and is hampered by its own bloating. It must shed its weight by giving birth to new provinces to restore healthy functionality.
If a citizen has to visit his/her administrative capital for necessary work, he/she should be able to undertake journey to his/her capital after eating breakfast at home. He/she should reach the provincial secretariat by nine or ten am, after an ‘easy’ journey. Even if it takes citizen a full working day to get a job done, he/she should be able to travel back in time for dinner with his/her family and sleep in his/her comfortable bed, in his/her own home town. If the citizen has to travel back again the next day, from home town to the provincial capital, it should not be a daunting task in terms of fatigue and finance. Those who travel from other parts of a province to its capital for necessary work, should not have to stay overnight in the process. Overnight stay is a costly affair. Travelling to and fro one’s provincial capital should neither be a physical ordeal nor a drain on a family’s budget. In Punjab, for a majority of its population, travelling to provincial capital Lahore is both. Lahore has become one of the most expensive and most congested cities in the world. As cost of living increases further, and roads are jammed for longer hours with increase in traffic, it will continue to become more and more disconcerting for the majority of Punjab’s population to venture into their provincial capital to get their necessary jobs done. E-governance cannot and should not replace personal contact with one’s leaders and officers. A capital is the heart of an administrative unit. Heart must function inside the body. It cannot service the body properly if connected through extraneous network of veins trying to provide service to the body over a long distance. As we decide how many provinces Punjab can be replaced by, one province that I have argued for always is the naturally contiguous terrain making what is the most “plausible” province of Pothohar. It is comprised of a population of nearly eighteen million, inhabiting the districts of Rawalpindi, Chakwal and Jhelum, which together form one distinct administrative unit every which way you look at it.
Pothohar province, with its capital historically at Rawalpindi, is an administrative necessity. Pothohar has its own distinct language called “Pahari,” its own culture and distinct terrain. Its hilly tracts have their own developmental woes. The agricultural practices are distinct. Mobility is distinct. Resource management is uniquely different from flatlands and lowlands. The very disaster risks people of the Pothohar face are different from the disaster risks faced by their counterparts in other parts of Punjab. Flora and Fauna is distinct. Society is gender inclusive. Women in Murree, Kahuta and Kotli Sattian, for instance, cannot afford Hijab as it would interfere with their mobility on mountainous terrain, hence they have never covered their faces, like women in other parts of Punjab. Livestock rearing requires a distinct set of practices, as does water management. Basically, the entire lifestyle of the Pothohari people is different from the life style of their counterparts in other parts of Punjab. Rajputs of Pakistan inhabit the area, which makes the area a singular socio-historical tourist attraction As Punjab inevitably gives birth to other provinces, Pothohar should be carved out from its northern terrain to be turned into a separate province with capital at Rawalpindi. I call upon policy makers to consider making a Pothohar province to further adorn the fabric of Pakistan. We need to help ailing Punjab endure its birthing pains for delivery of units that will in time grow into administrative assets for Pakistan, instead of being dragged along by a monolithic‘ Punjab’ that has become way too bloated and consequently too cumbersome to manage itself with maximum efficiency and minimum expense.
— The writer is the Executive Director at Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management.