Punjab: The land of Alexanders


    And its tradition of valour



    Some time ago, the Department of History and Pakistan Studies at the University of the Punjab under its dynamic Chairman Professor Mohammad Iqbal Chawla hosted a three-day international conference on the “Socio-Economic Cooperation between India and Pakistan” in which more than sixty national and international scholars participated. Dr Chawla being the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities as well as the Director of the Research Society of Pakistan has edited this book which contains fifteen research papers that were read in that conference. Most of the selected researches in this work are of the scholars from the Indian Punjab.

    Before one delves into the potential and possibilities of socio-economic cooperation between Pakistan and India, there is some fascinating historical information about the Punjabis that needs to be shared. We have often heard about the bravery of Punjabis which is actually rooted in their ancient history, the testimony of which can be found in a letter of Alexander the Great that he wrote to his mother circa 326 BC while confronting the army of Raja Porus at the River Jhelum. He was amazed by the imposing physique of Porus, who stood seven feet and six inches tall and in an admission of Punjabi bravery, Alexander penned, “I am involved in the land of ‘Leonine’ (lion-like) and brave people called ‘Khukrian’, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldiers. You have brought only one son into the world, but everyone in this land can be called an Alexander” — a generous compliment to the Punjabis.

    It is generally said that the Punjabis did not resist the foreign invaders rather they collaborated in their invasions which is not true, historically. From Alexander and Genghis Khan to Tamerlane and others, the invaders had to face stiff resistance from Punjabis. The invasion of Masud, the son of Mahmud Ghaznavi is just an example, as he had to order his camp to throw all the liquor in River Jhelum if they wished to defeat the Punjabis. So resisting were the Ghakkar and Khokhar tribes that Sher Shah Suri had to construct a fort at Rohtas and station an army of 30,000 to keep the area under control.

    The history of recurring invasions developed a peculiar Punjabi psyche that in turn produced a unique folklore such as “Punjab de jayian nu nitt muhimman” (that those born in Punjab are ever exposed to expeditions) and “Khada peeta lahe da, baqi Ahmed Shahe da (that whatever you consume is yours, the remaining shall be taken away by the invaders — Ahmed Shah Durrani).

    The history of Punjab is also a study in adventure and this adventurous life made the Punjabis quite adventurous. There is hardly any place on this planet where the Punjabis are not present; they are even found in the extraterrestrial. There is an anecdote that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, he was greeted by a Sikh taxi driver: “Badshao, kitthe chalna aye?” The shaken Armstrong who thought that he had taken a great leap forward for the humankind enquired, “How come you are here? I thought I was the first man to land on moon.” The Sardar casually quipped, “Bas ji, partition pichon aithe hi aa gayo si.” Equally robust are the Punjabi women particularly the Jatnis. Their robustness has become a part of the Punjabi folklore as one of the songs claims, “Jad nachchan mein Patiale dhamak Jalandhar paindi” (when I dance in Patiala, its tremors can be felt at Jalandhar).

    Almost all scholars in this conference were in agreement that there is a big potential of socio-economic cooperation between the two countries. Davinder Kumar Madaan has explored the commodity trade potential while Sucha Singh Gill has looked into the possibilities of energy cooperation. Similarly, while Inderjeet Singh and Pramod Kumar have highlighted the scope of services sector that can serve as an engine of economic growth, Wolfgang-Peter Zingel has written about how economy and ecology can factor in the south Asian cooperation.

    Despite the near unanimity of views over the possibility of socio-economic cooperation between the Punjabs in Pakistan and India, there is actually very little cooperation in essence. Why? None of the scholars dared to answer this. There is a burden of mutual enmity — not rivalry — and this burden has proved to be too heavy to make room for cooperation. In addition, there is a thick fog of mistrust which makes it difficult to see things through in their entirety. The conference papers just reiterated the very obvious i.e., the potential of cooperation and development but fell short to explain why it has not materialised. The deliberations of this conference are a rationale for holding another conference which should bring together the leading lights that are opposed to this type of cooperation. Not only will they be able to tell us why socio-economic cooperation has not realised its full potential in the past but may educate the attendants whether it will remain a pipe dream or can turn into a reality.