Punjab is all set to become a significant player in the national economy.

KHALID BUTT, Bureau Chief, Lahore
Aug 14 - 20, 2006

As we approach another Independent Day, our thoughts naturally turn to the events of past 58 years. Especially the long strides made by this newly born state in the field of economic and industrial development from a scratch. It is also an occasion of stocktaking to recall where we were and what we had inherited. It is important to recount all this for the present generation which have little or scanty knowledge of our pre-independence conditions.

Even as a young schoolboy I was quite well aware of the prevailing conditions in the areas which formed Pakistan. That the departing British rulers had given a cruel and unexpected parting kick through the one-sided Boundary Commission award by Radcliff and other turbulent events of that era are clearly eked out in my mind. The dice was heavily loaded with a highly partisan Viceroy Lord Mount Batten taking on us for denying him his burning ambition of becoming the Joint-Governor General of the two new nations - India and Pakistan.

But more than the last minute changes in the Boundary Commission award, to allow District Gurdaspur and access to Kashmir through Pathankot for India, there were other highly questionable decisions with which Pakistan had to contend with. Like equitable distribution of common assets of defence and financial resources as on both sides there were still some British officials in the key positions.

In Pakistan there were all three defence chiefs as well as the Governor of Punjab, Sir Francis Mody, who was known for his bias toward the Muslim League, the ruling party, and soft corner for nationalists consisting of anti-Pakistan elements.

All these Britons, as the later events showed, gave their parting kicks to destabilize the new country right from the word go. It was also quite a coincidence that the newly born state was found bereft of any worthwhile industrial or commercial centers. One could count on the fingers what we inherited and that was not much to figure.

In West Pakistan we had just a few notable industries located at Lyallpur, Okara, Lahore and Sukkur. These were Sutlej Cotton Mills, Okara owned by Dehli-based Dalmiyas Group, Lyallpur Cotton Mills, and a small Mela Ram Cotton Milla near Data Durbar, Lahore, all owned by Hindus.

Other than this, there was J.B. Manga Ram Bisuit Factory at Sukkur and Mitchells Fruit Farms and Factory at Renala Khurd. Except for few small and cotton ginning factories and flour mills at Montgomery (now Sahiwal), Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) and some other places there were no significant industrial units. Sialkot was known for sports and surgical goods and Wazirabad and Gujranwala for cutlery, and medium sized activity mostly as cottage industry.

But after partition with the exodus of non-Muslim owners it was all in ruins. In East Pakistan, the area which was the largest producer of jute in the world had no mills and it was dependent on Calcutta-based industry for its survival. Except for the Orient Airways that was based in Calcutta by Ispahanis, there was no airline and Habib Bank too was located in an area outside Pakistan. Both of them shifted their operations to opposites Karachi later on.

In Punjab, NWFP, East Pakistan and Sindh, the phenomenon of industrial growth started soon after the partition. Sindh and notably Karachi, which was the then federal capital, took the lead with the development of its port, airport, commerce and industry to become the behemoth which it is today.

Punjab too followed the lead and in quickly Lyallpur, Multan, Rahimyar Khan, Gujranwala, Sialkot, all flourished and so did NWFP, with Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan all developing their industrial potential. The must visible and notable progress has been in Punjab during the past six years. In and around Lahore, Faisalabad, Jhang, Khanewal, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Mirpur, has created served new industrial zones.

There is rapid and visible growth in the textile, engineering, leather, chemical, pharmaceutical and other related sectors as well as the great expansion of cottage industries. Followed by Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Faisalabad to set up stock exchanges with now LSE creating their desks at Sialkot and Multan to expand its activity for investors in these areas.

A most spectacular growth is to be found in the banking sector - electronics, IT and lately in the agriculture sector, which had been lagging behind all these years. The remarkable initiative taken by the present Punjab Government under Chief Minister Ch. Parvaiz Elahi has been to ensure the province realizing its great potential to grow both in industry and agriculture.

The creation of portfolio for Agriculture Marketing and setting up of PAMCO (Punjab Agri Marketing Company) have been among his notable achievements.

By all accounts, Punjab is taking a big leap by creating over a dozen of new industrial zones on the newly planned motorway from Lahore to Sialkot and also around Lahore and Kasur. As a result of these steps Punjab is all set to become a significant player in the national economy and play its rightful role it had been denied so far.