Extremism in South Punjab by Mustansar Klasra

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An economically deprived region of the contemporary world will never improve or flourish without receiving an equitable attention of the government. Unfortunately, this holds true in the case of south Punjab region in Pakistan where economic deprivation is at its peak and is the main cause of extremism in the region. It is unfortunate that focus of attention of successive Governments has remained to upper Punjab; a perception that the government has always denied.  

Poverty ratio in this region is more than rest of the Punjab which possibly is the root cause of growing extremism in this area. Owing to lack of any source of income, the people of south Punjab easily fall prey to the banned organizations, a number that is growing incessantly. Thus the economic deprivation and poverty has led to the current extremism, a key issue of this region which is somehow linked with terrorism.

South Punjab comprises of 4 divisions Multan, Sahiwal, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan which have 11 districts. The total area of these districts is approximately 99,572 sq km which makes up 48.5% of the total area of the Punjab. This implies that area wise the south Punjab region is almost the half of the Punjab province that has a population of 29.74 million. The ratio of urban population is thin as compared to the rest of Punjab. Generally people of these areas are engaged in farming; main crops are cotton and wheat. Mangoes of Multan are famous all over Pakistan and exported worldwide. Despite having huge population, land and even resources, this area has not received the attention it merits from the political elite and consequently this mismanagement has brought poverty crisis of massive proportions in the area.

Economic deprivation is a situation in which a person lacks the monetary resources to live at the same level of those around him. It is unfortunate that the south Punjab districts get very less share of the total budget of Punjab on the basis of the population-share formula. The provincial budget allocations go in favour of the populous districts of the province like the districts in the center and north of Punjab which have higher population. Consequently, the population share formula continues to deprive the south region of Punjab.

To look at this aspect from a different perspective to comprehend the issue, these districts collectively account for a significant thirty percent population of Punjab. The districts of south Punjab will continue to get less share and allocations and likewise the future forecasts will also remain unchanged if there is no change in the budget sharing formula. It is also unfortunate for the people of this region that their collective figure of people who live below the poverty line is far exceeds those of the three provinces of Sindh, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. South Punjab also suffers from limited health facilities, less opportunities for employment and youth development and low school enrolments.

South Punjab has minimal industrial set up thus limiting the job opportunities. Likewise the average landholding is also very small. Although this is the case for north Punjab also where the people also have small landholdings but they have alternate employment opportunities. The people of South Punjab, on the other hand, do not have alternate employment opportunities other than engaging in cultivation of small tracts. In addition, the bitter underground water, the high fuel charges for pumping underground sweet drinking and useable water make the agrarian cultivation exorbitant and therefore it too remains limited.

In the same manner, south Punjab does not have significant infrastructure which can provide alternate employment opportunities. Only Multan has some worthwhile infrastructure in it as a railway line passes through it on the way to Karachi.

Other studies undertaken in recent years have found the disparity among the masses of the country where the frequency of destitution was most elevated in Bahawalpur division and most minimal in Rawalpindi division. In a heterogeneous society like Pakistan, financial incongruities reinforce ethnic personalities. The minority bunches feel themselves deprived and emotions are increased without financial equity. Socio–economic unfairness like the refusal of key rights like  financial, access to insufficient nourishment and lodging will ultimately cultivate ethnic clashes.

Pakistan’s Poverty Reduction Strategy has addressed some issues where it is identified that the poor particularly experience the ill effects of absence of security and opportunities. The distinction in rate of destitution in Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur divisions portrayed errors in variables that increase or reduce the neediness in the various provincial zones.

 An analysis of destitution profile of the Punjab area reveals that the rate of neediness was on the higher side in case of D.G. Khan and Bahawalpur Divisions. Both divisions are a part of the similarly denied locale of south Punjab. D.G. Khan Division involves areas of Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh and Layyah. Semi-bone-dry atmosphere and minimal agrarian economy make this tract less prosperous. In Pakistan, neediness is predominantly a country wide. Inspite of the fact that destitution does exist in urban regions likewise yet the country neediness exhibits a hopeless picture. In the history of Pakistan the relentless increment in destitution raise serious concerns.  To address the issue of destitution, a large portion of the specialists of the field utilize for most part auxiliary information to asses different measurements and levels of neediness crosswise over locales, regions and at the nation level.

During all this next to no consideration has been given to examine the elements influencing the rustic neediness at divisional and area levels. The present examination went for discovering the frequency and seriousness of neediness in Punjab. While it will be appropriate to appreciate the efforts of the government which is trying its level best to improve the situation like establishment of Danish schools, giving incentives to the farmers etc, however, lot more could still be done to alleviate the problems of the people of the south Punjab.

For these compelling reasons the people of the region strongly advocate demarcation of south Punjab as a separate province. However, till such time that the issue of separate province remains in limbo, south Punjab definitely needs more funds allocation to bring the region out from the folds of poverty and deprivation. The striking socio economic deprivations, as events of recent years have proved, had very serious ramifications that bred nurseries of terrorism and brought disastrous consequences for the region itself and the country. The issues of south Punjab must receive very serious attention above the political considerations. It is already too late!