Rising Lahore and reviving Pakistan

Published: July 21, 2013
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The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and has served as vice-president at the World Bank

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and has served as vice-president at the World Bank

Lahore has had several periods of glory in its long history of more than 2,000 years. If it was not the capital of the political system of the day, it was the centre of the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. During the Afghan and Mughal dynasties that ruled from Delhi, Lahore was the second most important city of the empire that was in place at that time. But it lost that position when another invader entered India, this time from Europe and from the sea. It spent a great deal of time, energy and resources in developing three port cities in India — Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. The rulers thus made India what it never was — a maritime power. The rulers who preceded them had entered India from the mountain passes in the north and passed through Lahore on their way to Delhi. Eventually, the British realised that the vast empire they were in the process of building, demanded a different seat of power. This was brought home to them by the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857. However, even when the British formally incorporated India into their large empire and moved the capital inland to Delhi, the port cities retained their importance. For the British, Lahore became one of the regional centres, not the most important city after Delhi, the capital.

What history tells us is that the fortunes of a large city are determined by the structure of the political system of which it is a part. As will be discussed in this series of articles, Lahore suffered enormously from the wrenching delivered by Partition of British India. During the Pakistan period, Lahore was thrust into the background by the three groups that governed the country in quick succession. For a decade and a half, political power was in the hands of the refugees who had come from the urban areas of the Muslim minority provinces of British India. They settled in Karachi for the simple reason that it was chosen to be the country’s capital. They had fought for the creation of an independent Muslim state to have access to political power. That seat of power was now Karachi. The refugees — later to be called the muhajirs — took command of both the political and bureaucratic systems of the new country. However, their hold over power could not go unchallenged in a country in which they constituted a small minority. This group was replaced by the military that governed with some interruptions for 50 years from 1958 to 2008. It chose to move the capital from Karachi to a new site in the neighbourhood of Rawalpindi, the location of its headquarter. Given the military’s preference for centralised command and control, it put the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi at the centre of the system of governance. In the period since 2008, the reins of government were in the hands of a political party that was interested in promoting the development of the country’s south. The 2013 elections have fundamentally altered that calculus. But it was not this regional orientation that led the governing group to be sidelined in the elections. It was the great disappointment with the way it governed that removed it so decisively from power.

It was the changing shape of the country’s political landscape that thrust Lahore into the background. While Karachi was being developed as the country’s capital that was where a good part of investment, both by the government and the private sector, went.

Geography matters in economics, particularly the role cities must play in development. If ignored, geography will take its revenge. This is happening in several parts of the Muslim world where cities provide the physical environment, which makes it possible for the disaffected people to coalesce. The May elections have brought the same political party to power in Islamabad, as well as Lahore. It can develop growth strategies for the country and for the province that will complement each other. Rather than stand in the way of Lahore as it begins to work for the realisation of the enormous growth potential of the city and of the province of which it is the capital, Islamabad can — and undoubtedly will — play a supporting role. It will aid rather than deter the city’s advancement and the role it can play in reviving Pakistan — not only its economy, but also the state of its society. Lahore, liberated from the harness of regional politics it was forced to wear, can place itself at the centre of the much-needed efforts to revive Pakistan.

This brief review of history leads to a number of important questions for Pakistan. In its current depressed state, could a city provide the dynamism that the country sorely needs? Could a resurgent Lahore perform that role? Could the political transformation brought about in the country by the elections of 2013, place the capital of Punjab at the centre of Pakistan’s economic revival? The answers to all three questions are ‘yes’. If these are indeed the answers, those who will plan to build Pakistan’s economic future, should seriously factor in the role that Lahore can play in the country’s economic revival. This, then, is the analytical framework I will use for this series of articles.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd,  2013.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Another Pakistani
    Jul 21, 2013 - 11:58PM

    // For a decade and a half, political power was in the hands of the refugees who had come from the urban areas of the Muslim minority provinces of British India//

    Immigrants, sir, not refugees. There is a big difference in meaning.

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  • Humaira
    Jul 22, 2013 - 12:12AM

    I am sorry, our education is still very lacking when it comes to our own history. Yes, Indian history is our history too, not withstanding the religious bigots who are my compatriots.

    The writer says India was never a maritime power before the Brits. Really? South India was a huge maritime power since time immemorial. How else do you think all of South East Asia is culturally Indianized: from Burma to Thailand to Cambodia to Malaysia to Indonesia. And, how do you think Buddhism spread to China, Korea and Japan?

    Hint: The chola empire that had size of 4 million square kilometers – about the same size as the mughal empire but larger than the current Indian republic – was entirely maritime. And, the bay of bengal was often refered to as the “chola pond” as their kingdom spanned all the way from sri lanka to south india to northeast india to burma to the malaysian peninsula to indonesia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chola_Empire

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  • Imran
    Jul 22, 2013 - 12:32AM

    Mr Burki, Pakistan and Lahore are on verge of complete breakdown,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i think you need to live in reality than glory of past, But maybe we can live in fantasy world and pretend all is ok, like the ruling class, some of us belong to.

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  • Maria
    Jul 22, 2013 - 1:56AM

    @Imran: I doubt you have ever been to Lahore if you think Lahore is on the verge of a complete break down. If anything, Lahore and the Punjab in general is in the midst of a renaissance. Yes there are many challenges but I visited many of Punjab’s cities in Spring of this year before elections. Not only Lahore but many of the cities give the impression of progress and development. You should read what many international writers have written about Lahore and the Punjab in terms of improvement of economic and social indices. Incidentally I am not a Lahori.

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  • Addressed to the Author
    Jul 22, 2013 - 3:14AM

    Off of Wikipedia:

    From 1524 to 1752, Lahore was part of the Mughal Empire. Lahore touched the zenith of its glory during the Mughal rule from 1524 to 1752. The Mughals, who were famous as builders, gave Lahore some of its finest architectural monuments, many of which are extant today.

    Lahore was the capital of India for 200 years. How could you skip this obvious fact?

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  • umar
    Jul 22, 2013 - 3:22AM

    What a lame article. First of all, the Muslims from minority provinces weren’t refugees, they were the rulers waiting in the wings. They had the intellect, the culture, the education and the background to take the country to new heights. Thus Pakistan progressed rapidly in the first few years. Since they left everything in the ancestral homeland, they had high stakes in the development of the new country. However, the takeover by the army and the not so intellectual people led to the downfall of the whole nation. Secondly, a nation with a diverse population of 180 million cannot depend on the prosperity of one particular city. Progress has to be felt in all parts of the country and should trickle down to all ethnicity to make Pakistan a stronger nation. Lets focus of Gwadar and make it a model for the whole Pakistan to follow.

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  • umar
    Jul 22, 2013 - 3:24AM

    What a lame article. First of all, the Muslims from minority provinces weren’t refugees, they were the rulers waiting in the wings. They had the intellect, the culture, the education and the background to take the country to new heights. Thus Pakistan progressed rapidly in the first few years. Since they left everything in the ancestral homeland, they had high stakes in the development of the new country. However, the takeover by the army and the not so intellectual people led to the downfall of the whole nation. Secondly, a nation with a diverse population of 180 million cannot depend on the prosperity of one particular city. Progress has to be felt in all parts of the country and should trickle down to all ethnicity to make Pakistan a stronger nation. Lets focus of Gwadar and make it a model for the whole Pakistan to follow.Recommend

  • TightPatloon
    Jul 22, 2013 - 4:01AM

    @Humaira – The day an average Pakistani has a sense of history like you, all problems facing Pakistan will disappear.

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  • Ayush
    Jul 22, 2013 - 6:20AM

    @Humaira:
    You are absolutely correct. The same Indianization lead culminated in Angkor Wat.
    I am very pleasantly surprised to find a Pakistani aware of ancient South Indian history. Kudos!

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  • Cobra Commander
    Jul 22, 2013 - 8:34AM

    @Imran: I like you to drive your car , on GT road, all the way to Gujranwala. You will marvel the industry you will find on both sides of the road. The road network is being upgraded and two of the largest hotel chains of Pakistan are setting up tents in Gujranwala. I would also like you to drive to Sialkot and look at the industry there and road network in that city. I have seen progress whichever place I have visited in Punjab. Please stop spreading nilhist thinking and contribute to the progress of this country. Yes we have pressing issues but we need to solve them on our own.

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  • Cobra Commander
    Jul 22, 2013 - 9:44AM

    @umar: You wrote ” Secondly, a nation with a diverse population of 180 million cannot depend on the prosperity of one particular city”. Then you write “Lets focus of Gwadar and make it a model for the whole Pakistan to follow”. You contradicted yourself?

    We need industrial cities in all the provinces not one. Punjab is not Lahore , it also has Gujranwala, Sialkot, Faisalabad etc as cities which are rapidly progressing. China based its progress around its main cities i.e Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu etc and its the same way all around the world. Lahore will play an important part in the future economic revival of Pakistan.

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  • Random Passerby
    Jul 22, 2013 - 10:09AM

    Open the Wagah border for trade with India, and Lahore will once again become the second most important city after Delhi in the North Western part of South Asia.

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  • Shakir Lakhani
    Jul 22, 2013 - 10:45AM

    First of all, the people of Lahore will have to start paying back-breaking taxes (like the people of Karachi have been doing for the past 66 years). Secondly, electricity and gas theft will have to be reduced to a bare minimum. Thirdly, Lahore factory-owners will have to clear their utility dues (gas/electricity/telephone/water) immediately. And finally, Lahore cannot really become another Karachi, unless it has a sea-port (which, because of geography, is simply not possible, unless the PML-N government decides to deepen the Indus River so that medium-sized ships can go right up to Lahore).

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  • Jul 22, 2013 - 11:24AM

    Well pointed out Humaira – and so refreshing. I think thanks to Zaid Hamid and Orya Maqbool Jan and the late Dr. Israr – the sense that muslims ruled over all of India for 1000 years has not allowed pakistanis to appreciate the larger history of the subcontinent.

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  • Kabir
    Jul 22, 2013 - 12:37PM

    Just to make the simple case that Lahore has the potential to play a more important role than it is doing at the moment (which, in fact, is true of every other city in Pakistan) why is there need to misread history, denigrate the people who struggled most for this country, and ascribe to a party the development of the south when it was not interested in development at all? If your area of expertise is finance, can you not leave history alone especially when you don’t need it to make your point?

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  • Linchpin
    Jul 22, 2013 - 2:28PM

    @Humaira: Buddhism spread to China from what is now Pakistan including the great Buddhist centers of Taxila, Peshawar valley and Swat. Through Afghanistan and the Silk road. India may or may not have been a great maritime power but the area Punjab and KPK was defiantly a great Buddhist power.

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  • Polpot
    Jul 22, 2013 - 3:05PM

    I am told that the pre partition Lahore was a marvellous city multi cultural multi ehtnic and mutli religious
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    It was said that one who has not seen Lahore has not seen the world.
    Post partition Lahore has deteriorated like all cities in the sub continent.

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  • Khaan
    Jul 22, 2013 - 4:21PM

    Agreed……Only LAHORE can play such a role as govt of LAHORE in ISLAMABAD cannot see anything beyond LAHORE boundaries.

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  • Kabir
    Jul 22, 2013 - 5:32PM

    @Polpot: Part of Lahore’s cultural vibrancy came from its cultural diversity – it was home to Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Anglo-Indians. Once that diversity was lost (through Polpotian madness!), it just became a very ordinary and dull city.

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  • Napier Mole
    Jul 22, 2013 - 6:06PM

    Obviously, Mr Burki, you have a major international exposure and write with a vast experience at your back. However, lest your latest column is perceived in ethnic colors, i wish you could do a dispassionate analysis of Karachi and its proven and undoubted capacity to drive the destiny of Pakistan. However, for once you would need to put mqm aside and question why a city of almost twenty million is not being provided the right to have a strong metropolitan government, with police and transport under its control. This alone has the potential to remarkably alter the socio political landscape of Karachi. And mind you such metropolitan rights would need to be granted soon to Lahore as well. Much of the actions that shahbaz shariff takes credit for would have normally fallen the way of a lord mayor. It is primarily the lack of good or in many cases complete absence of municipal governance which is blighting the face and potential of our cities. If u could take one tangible cause, this would be it.

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  • Pashtunyar
    Jul 22, 2013 - 10:21PM

    O boy! Here we go again…Punjabi/Lahori chauvinism…

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  • umar
    Jul 22, 2013 - 10:42PM

    @cobra commander…I didn’t mean to say that we should focus on one particular city at the exclusion of others which i believe the author means to say. I cited Gwadar as an example as the city is still in it’s infancy. New administrative and political models should be adopted in this city which can be emulated by other major cities such as the setting up of a metropolitan government. Urban planners should also be hired to set a standard for the rest of the country. All this does not mean diverting money away for other cities.Recommend

  • Reality Check
    Jul 23, 2013 - 12:40AM

    @umar:

    Man you simply are a confused fella, jumping from one point to another when exposed thoroughly by some sane commentator.

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  • Maria
    Jul 23, 2013 - 3:01AM

    @Pashtunyar: My mother’s family is from Charsadda. Imagine for one second if people in KPK and other provinces started to have the same passion and pride to make their own cities the best they can be. It’s easy to complain about others but hard to work to make a better Pekhawar or a better Karachi. For you it seems easier to complain but you still can’t ignore the obvious. Shahbaz Sharif has done a great job of improving Lahore and all of the Punjab despite all the difficulty and discrimination he faced from the Federal government and centre the last 5 years.

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  • Jul 24, 2013 - 1:11PM

    Economic activity can only revive and flourish in in Lahore if trade with India liberalized. Huge amount of trade which comes through Karachi would then be shifted to Lahore. Pakistan should also make Lahore corridor for India-Afghanistan transit trade and also for India to central Asia trade. Otherwise dreaming of any economic revival is allowed to all.

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