Governance and Militancy in Pakistan’s Southern Punjab Region

Southern Punjab is a loosely defined region in Punjab Province that includes Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, and the Bahawalpur Civil Divisions. Compared to other parts of the province, Southern Punjab has underdeveloped communication networks, poor infrastructure, weak social services institutions, inadequate agricultural inputs, and large gaps in municipal services. Exclusion and social marginalization are widespread due to discrimination on the basis of caste, class, ethnicity, gender, and land ownership. Poverty is characterized by low income levels, a weak asset base, and barriers against efforts to reduce discrimination. Of 40 million people living below the poverty line in Pakistan, an estimated 10 million are in Southern Punjab, with poverty levels between 48 and 64 percent in the poorest four districts, far above the average for Northern or Western Punjab.

The politics of Southern Punjab have historically been determined by the political agendas of large national parties, to the virtual exclusion of any localized priorities. The changing regimes of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) rarely dealt with specific issues and demands of districts in Southern Punjab in any organized manner. A similar pattern also emerged during the rule of President Pervez Musharraf. The only occasion when some of the local issues received prominence was during the local bodies’ elections of 2001 and 2005, when local politicians highlighted the grievances of Southern Punjab and brought them to attention at the provincial level. As soon as elected governments took over at the provincial and national level during 2008, even this window of demand articulation was closed as different local government tiers were made dysfunctional. However, in recent years Southern Punjab’s local agenda has been recognized, at least in word, by some mainstream political parties, including both the “N” and “Q” factions of the Pakistan Muslim League. Some parties highlighted underdevelopment, inequality, and other grievances as part of the parties’ campaign platforms.

S.R. Mehboob