What’s The Matter With Punjab?

Nobody wants to point out the obvious, so I’m going to go ahead and say it: What’s the matter with Punjab? Seriously, it seems like so much of the crazy conspiracy theories, revisionist history, and illiberal isolationist rhetoric are coming out of only one province.

Take drone attacks. Again, I’m going to be controversial here, but bear with me for the sake of argument. Why are we more concerned with the drones that kill scores than the jihadis that kill thousands? What’s especially strange about this is that the Punjab mindset is more reactionary than even those affected by drones! Aniq Zafar wrote in The News last month that,

Those who live in Punjab are far more likely than those in other regions to consider the US as an enemy of Pakistan; about sixty-nine (69%) in that province express this opinion, compared with 52% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 40% in Sindh.

But it’s not just anti-Americanism that plagues the nation’s most populous province. I was reminded of this again when I read an article in Express Tribune recently about the struggles of minorities in the country – the white in our flag. And where is the worst anti-minority discrimination occurring? Punjab.

Provincial legislator Priten Sehwani feels that minorities are much safer in Sindh, as compared to the Punjab. There are around four million registered Hindus in Pakistan, out of which 70 per cent live in Tharparkar. The legislator maintains that only small disputes between landowners and their field workers, who are usually Hindus, have been reported. “We are sons of the soil and such incidents will never change that,” he hastens to add. Thus develops the argument that not all violence should be cast in the prism of faith. Sometimes it’s just people fighting.

Indeed, the worst violence seems to be reported not from Sindh but from the Punjab. In June 2009, 110 Christian families fled their homes in Kasur over blasphemy accusations. In July, 40 Christian homes near Gojra were burned after accusations of the desecrated the Quran. A few days later, seven Christians, including two children, were burned alive in Gojra.

This should come as no surprise if we recall the ridiculous controversy of Zardari’s choice of headwear, and the rather open racism exhibited by Punjabis.

These days, the Punjabi voice is shouting from the rooftops for some soldiers to come in and throw out “corrupt politicians”. Somehow, their own elected officials never quite qualify, though. What they’re really saying is “throw out the non-Punjabis”. Tarek Fatah is right – you’d think they would have learned their lesson the last time.

One would have thought the Punjabi ruling classes would have learnt a lesson in 1971 after their colonialist policies in then East Pakistan destroyed the country. However, instead of facing the truth, it seems this sense of entitlement and colonial attitude has been reinforced and passed on to the next generation. These men and women simply see themselves as the normative and all other Pakistanis, be they religious or racial minorities, as their subjects.

In some ways, it seems like the Punjab mindset is close to that of the BNP in the UK or the Tea Party in America – “Angry White Men” who feel their control threatened. This would certainly explain the elitism that pours out when Ansar Abbasi mocks people who didn’t get to go to school in London, or the faux-Saudi mosques that have spread Wahhabism in a once tolerant and peaceful land.

Is it any mistake that, according to the Pew study released in July,

Consistently, militant groups receive more positive ratings in Punjab than in other regions. While 27 percent in Punjab offer a favorable opinion of al Qaeda and 22 percent express a favorable view of the Taliban, support for these groups is only in the single digits in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Baluchistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba also gets its most positive ratings in Punjab, where equal numbers express a positive (34 percent) and negative (34 percent) view of the organization.

But despite Punjab being the most prosperous province, the same poll actually found that the best educated and wealthiest see these groups as a direct threat.

Pakistanis in the high income group are especially likely to see a threat from both the Taliban (66 percent) and al Qaeda (50 percent). The well-educated are also more concerned about these groups – 61 percent see a threat from the Taliban and 51 percenet from al Qaeda. Residents of Sindh (68 percent) are more likely than others to consider the Taliban a serious threat, while those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (50 percent) are the most concerned about al Qaeda.

Of course, Mir Saheb’s family is from Punjab, as is Majid Nizami. Could it be that this is why we see stories like NRO and ‘fake degrees’ hanging around forever, while murderous attacks on Data Darbar and Shia processions come and go with barely a second thought?

So what’s the deal, Punjab? Islam was supposed to free us from the illegitimacy of the caste system devised by the Hindus. Don’t declare yourselves the new Brahmins and try to crush the rest of the country under your heel. We finally got a democratic government and we’re trying to move this country forward.

Yes, the president isn’t one of your guys, and he wears a different topi sometimes. But 2008 wasn’t the last election ever. That’s the whole point of a democracy. Put someone up for elections in 2013. Who knows, if he’s not a Punjabi supremacist bigot, he might even get elected.



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  1. @Qaisar – who never says anything about Altaf comments? I have written multiple posts criticising Altaf’s comments, and I will continue to do so. Please read before you accuse. And what do I care if Punjab was where PPP was made? There are plenty of Punjab Supremacist in every political party – yes even in PPP. This is not about political parties, it’s about being honest about a problem so that we can overcome it.

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