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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 280, 26 January 2022

Punjab in 2022: Five developments to look for



Local government elections, extremism and debate over the South Punjab province are likely to be the most prominent in 2022

Ankit Singh

The Punjab province has a population of 110 million which is 53.14 per cent of the total population as per the survey of 2017 of Pakistan and is the most densely populated province of Pakistan. It is also the most industrialized province and situated in alluvial plains. The agricultural produce has gone to break the records and there is a new optimism in localized economic rejuvenation of Punjab. However, with growing radicalism and unstable provincial politics, the priorities seem to be misplaced.

In 2022, the following five issues are likely to dominate the Punjab province.

1. Local government elections and the fate of PTI and PML-N
Following affidavit submission by Rana Shamim regarding the NAB’s flawed proceedings, PML-N has gained lost credibility. Also, recent election results in KP province is a setback for the PTI. Punjab is next in turn to witness local government elections; the turnout and result would determine whether the PTI would continue, or the PML-N would get revived. If the result favours the PML-N, it would strengthen its prospects in the 2023 elections.  

Another interesting aspect would be the newer fringe parties who have been streamlined in political and cultural space. Their participation in the public space has been protest marches across Pakistan, and their popular support can be converted into political gains. The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Muttahida Majlis-i-Amil (MMA) in the last election had eaten up the share of provincial parties. The TLP has a stronghold in Punjab and its ascension to politics needs to be closely observed.
Other than the gains and losses for PML-N and PTI respectively, the parties with religious appeal in the province would likely act as kingmakers.

2. Rise in religious radicalism
On 19 January, a woman was sentenced to death by the Islamabad High Court upon putting controversial content as her WhatsApp status. The issue is not whether the content was really controversial or not; it is about the harsh sentence. The religious orthodoxy feeds into radicalism. Punjab has been witnessing incidents of lynching or burning people alive.

Punjab is crucial in understanding the cultural and social discourse in Pakistan. The year ahead is likely to be more polarized in this context and is likely to shift the attention away from crucial issues of governance in Pakistan.

 3. The South Punjab province debate
On 17 January, the ruling government produced a bill in the Senate that sought the creation of South Punjab also termed Saraikistan. Due to the high population and density, it has been a long-pending administrative demand. It is expected to help in better fund allocation for the relatively deprived southern part of Punjab. Most parties have been placing this promise in their manifesto in previous years but none of them took it seriously. It has remained an electoral slogan in South Punjab to attract votes.

However, the PTI’s non-affinity to provincial sensitivities may enable the formation of South Punjab. Several important decisions have been taken which have been criticized to be going against national interests For example, enabling a stronger State Bank of Pakistan was seen as siphoning away the economic sovereignty of Pakistan. The PTI may end up passing the legislation to create Saraikistan. The debate around Saraikistan will gain ground.

4. Agriculture
Punjab is the rice bowl of Pakistan; it contributes about 68 per cent to the annual food grain production and 51 million acres of land is cultivated annually. The focus due to decreasing water table, land desertification, climate change and self-sufficiency has shifted on small and medium farming. Better acreage and enhancing grain per yield without compromising on nutrient profile has become a priority for agriculture scientists in Punjab. Many startups in Punjab have connected the farmers directly with consumers, which finance the whole production cycle and buys the product as well to bring the farmers into the mainstream economy.

While the cash crops like rice and cotton have been increasing in their annual output, there is equal stress given to climate-resilient and short period crops. On 3 January, Agriculture Minister Syed Hussain Jahania Gardezi said that the year 2022 will focus on food security in Punjab and already the development budget has been doubled for the year 2022. The development around agriculture in the province has prospects of carrying the farming to the climate-conscious, smart and profitable farming.

5. Economy
Since the lockdown restriction was lifted in August 2021, there has been a surge in construction activity. There has also been a demand for cement, steel and other basic raw materials. On similar lines, the textile industry, considered the backbone of exports profile also performed record exports worth USD 15.4 billion, an increase of 18 per cent over the past year. On top of export stood imports which though higher than the exports reflect continuous demand for commodities and the ability to afford expensive items.
The above economic resilience in consumption and demand in Punjab (other than the city Karachi) is an indicator of adaptation and forward momentum in economic sustenance. The start-up inclined in digital domains is another example whereby not just only Punjab, but the country will benefit from such domestic economic initiatives as the province braves another year of strapped investment and higher consumption.

References
Woman awarded death in online blasphemy case,” Dawn, 20 January 2022
Sana Chaudhary, “Ex-CJP Nisar rubbishes media report on keeping Nawaz, Maryam in jail during 2018 elections,” Dawn, 15 December 2021
Iftikhar A Khan, “PTI, PPP back south Punjab province bill,” Dawn, 18 January 2022
Amjad Mehmood, “Punjab focuses on food security in 2022,” Dawn, 3 January 2022
Pakistan's textile exports see upward trajectory in Dec: MoC,” Business Recorder, 4 January 2022

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