Migration and economic backwardness in Punjab

Appreciation of links between migration, its impact on economic development will lead to a better public policy.

Shahid Javed Burki May 27, 2012

Staying with the Punjab story as told by the Institute of Public Policy (IPP) in its 2012 annual report, I will today begin to look at what has kept the province’s southern districts persistently poor compared to those in other parts of the province. There is a high level of correlation between the incidence of poverty and the level of district development. There is nothing surprising about this result. The incidence of poverty in the southern districts is 43 per cent of the population while that for the province as whole is 27 per cent. It is even lower in the districts in the province’s center and north.

Poverty is much more severe in small towns and cities than in the countryside. Migration it appears has played an important role in this context. One reason for this may be that the rural poor choose to relocate themselves in the urban areas in the expectation that more jobs will be available in the urban economy. Economists call this the ‘push factor’ when poor economic conditions in the place of residence persuades people to move to the areas where there may be better prospects for finding jobs. Opposite to this is the ‘pull factor’ when it is known that better paying jobs are available in a particular geographic space some distance away from the place of residence.

The push factor is independent of the amount of distance travelled by those who choose to move out. Short distance migration especially in southern Punjab is an example of the push factor. One result of this is that poverty simply gets exported from one place to the other. Just by moving out, the migrants help those who remain behind. However, they bring down average incomes by moving into the urban areas that don’t have many opportunities to offer.  This appears to have happened in the case of the southern districts of Punjab.

For some reason, those discouraged by their circumstances in the countryside as are the people in the southern districts of Punjab province, have preferred to relocate in the nearby towns and cities. They seem to avoid long-distance migration. There are, accordingly, relatively few people from these districts in the well-populated Pakistani diasporas in the Middle East, Britain and North America. A good example is out-migration from Gujrat district situated on the border of central and northern Punjab. The people from this district are to be found in many distant places. They constitute the bulk of the Pakistani population now resident permanently in Norway.  I was once told by the Norwegian ambassador to Pakistan that one percent of her country’s population was made up of Pakistanis. In Oslo, the country’s capital, Pakistanis accounted for 10 per cent of the population. Most of these people were from Gujrat district.

Outmigration from Gujrat to Europe offers some interesting insights not only for understanding why people move but also of the choice of their destinations. Once it was appreciated in the district that migration was an important and effective contributor to poverty alleviation, people began to look actively for the opportunities that were available. The Gujratis took advantage of the path discovered by illegal migrants from North Africa to Spain to join this stream of migration. There is now a fairly large community in Barcelona of the people from this district.

Karachi’s growth, on the other hand, is a good example of the pull factor. Millions of people who have left their homes in such poor areas as the tribal regions of Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa (K-P) and the barani areas of north Punjab and Azad Kashmir and moved to Karachi. By doing so, they have generally improved their economic situation. They also help the places from which they come by sending back remittances. These have become important contributors to the incomes of the areas such as North Punjab and K-P. Although in its Punjab study the IPP did not do work on the impact of remittances on economic and social development, there is good reason to argue that this must have been positive.

For some reason, which sociologists and anthropologists need to ponder on, is that there are areas that send out more migrants compared to other places. In the case of Pakistan, the people from K-P and northern and central parts of Punjab have been more inclined to travel long distances in search of jobs than those who live in South Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh. Demonstration affect may be one reason why people from some areas find long-distance migration to be a reasonable way for addressing their poor economic circumstances. Once remittances from those who have gone to distant places begin to arrive they provide incentives for those who are under stress for economic reasons to also contemplate migration. Also, once people from a particular area have formed communities of their own in places such as Karachi, Oslo and Barcelona, it is easier for the newcomers to get settled. Pioneering migrants have much more difficult time in creating opportunities for themselves in their adopted homelands. It is much easier for those who follow them.

Pakistan’s economists, in particular those who study the country’s history, have not paid much attention to how migration has contributed to development. A better appreciation of the links between the movement of people and its impact on economic development and social change will lead to the making of better public policy.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2012.


Most Read


gujranwala987 | 9 years ago | Reply


But if you ask me I would certainly like punjab government to get rid of this backward south punjab area from rest of punjab, their contribution to the province´s revenue is zero, actually this saraiki area is a burden on the rest of punjab province. Central punjab is propersous because people here are hard working, intelligent and good in entrepreneurship, people in gujranwala, sialkot and gujrat for example dont beg government to come and develop their area, we do it ourselves, all the industry in the aforementioned cities has been established by locals with their own hard work and intelligence, not by begging to the government.

Amjad | 9 years ago | Reply

There is a simple reason why South Punjab is more backward and it has nothing to do with illegal migrants going to Norway since we all know that any Pakistani living in Norway had to smuggle himself in illegally and claim asylum. The reason why South Punjab is more backward is because there is still some degree of feudalism there. There is no feudalism in Central and Northern Punjab and we can all see how this region is the most stable, developed and prosperous part of Pakistan. That's why separating the south of the province will only worsen their poverty instead of raising the area to the level of the rest of Punjab.

Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ