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Migration and Growth of Major Cities

Pakistan's cities are expanding much faster than the overall population. At independence in 1947, many refugees from India settled in urban areas. In the 1950s, more than one-half of the residents of several cities in Sindh and Punjab were muhajirs. Some refugee colonies were eventually recognized as cities in their own right.

Between 1951 and 1981, the urban population quadrupled. The annual urban growth rate during the 1950s and 1960s was more than 5 percent. This figure dropped slightly in the 1970s to 4.4 percent. Between 1980 and early 1994, it averaged about 4.6 percent. By early 1994, about 32 percent of all Pakistanis lived in urban areas, with 13 percent of the total population living in three cities of over 1 million inhabitants each--Lahore, Faisalabad, and Karachi.

The key reason for migration to urban areas has been the limited opportunity for economic advancement and mobility in rural areas. The economic and political control that local landlords exercise in much of the countryside has led to this situation.

The urban migrant is almost invariably a male. He retains his ties with his village, and his rights there are acknowledged long after his departure. At first, the migration is frequently seen as a temporary expedient, a way to purchase land or pay off a debt. Typically, the migrant sends part of his earnings to the family he left behind and returns to the village to work at peak agricultural seasons. Even married migrants usually leave their families in the village when they first migrate. The decision to bring wife and children to the city is thus a milestone in the migration process.

As cities have grown, they have engulfed surrounding villages, bringing agriculturists into the urban population. Many of these farmers commute to urban jobs from their original homes. The focus of these individuals' lives remains their family and fellow villagers. Similarly, migrants from rural areas who have moved to the cities stay in close touch with relatives and friends who have also moved, so their loyalties reflect earlier patterns. The Pakistani city tends to recreate the close ties of the rural community.

Pakistani cities are diverse in nature. The urban topology reflects the varied political history within the region. Some cities dating from the medieval era, such as Lahore and Multan, served as capitals of kingdoms or small principalities, or they were fortified border towns prior to colonial rule. Other precolonial cities, such as Peshawar, were trading centers located at strategic points along the caravan route. Some cities in Sindh and Punjab centered on cottage industries, and their trade rivaled the premier European cities of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Under colonial rule, many of the older administrative cities declined. Where the British located a trading post (factory) near an existing administrative center, the city was typically divided into old and new, or European, sections. New towns and cities also emerged, especially in the expanding canal colonies, Faisalabad (formerly Lyallpur) is such a city. The town of Karachi expanded rapidly to become a center of rail and sea transport as a consequence of British rule and as consequence of the opening of massive irrigation projects and the increase in agricultural exports. Thus, Pakistan's two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore, illustrate how differing regional and sociocultural histories have shaped the variations among Pakistan's cities.

Karachi absorbed tens of thousands of muhajirs following independence in 1947, grew nearly two and one-half times from 1941 to 1951, and nearly doubled again in the following decade. Karachi is by far Pakistan's largest city and is still rapidly growing. In the early 1990s the population exceeded 10 million.

Karachi's rapid growth has been directly related to the overall economic growth in the country. The partition of British India into the independent states of Pakistan and India prompted an influx into Pakistan of Muslim merchants from various parts of the new, Hindu-majority India. These merchants, whom sociologist Hamza Alavi refers to as salariat, had money to invest and received unusual encouragement from the government, which wanted to promote the growth of the new state.

Karachi at first developed in isolation. Relatively few people from outlying areas were engaged in running its factories, and the city had little impact on Pakistan's cultural fabric. But when the economies of southern Sindh and parts of Punjab began to expand, large numbers of migrants flooded the city in search of work (generally low-paying jobs), and Karachi become the hub of the nation's commerce. The city, however, also has serious problems. It has the poorest slums in the country, and it suffers from serious interethnic conflict as a consequence of the influx of many competing groups. It was the site of considerable violence in the late 1980s as muhajirs solidified their local power base vis--vis the Pakhtuns and native Sindhis (see Subversion and Civil Unrest , ch. 5).

Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city, contrasts markedly with Karachi. With just under half the population of Karachi, it is regarded as the cultural nucleus of Punjab. Residents of Lahore take special pride in their city's physical beauty, especially in its Mughal architecture, which includes the Badshahi Mosque, Shalimar Gardens, Lahore Fort, and Jahangir's tomb. In the earliest extant historical reference to the city, in A.D. 630 the Chinese traveler Xuan Zang described it as a large Brahmanical city. A center of learning by the twelfth century, Lahore reached its peak in the sixteenth century, when it became the quintessential Mughal city--the "grand resort of people of all nations and a center of extensive commerce."

The economy and the population expanded greatly in the 1980s in a number of other cities. The most important of these are Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Wazirabad, and Sialkot in Punjab; Hyderabad in Sindh; and Peshawar and Mardan in the North-West Frontier Province.

The nation's capital was situated in Karachi at independence. General Mohammad Ayub Khan, who assumed power in 1958, aspired, however, to build a new capital that would be better protected from possible attack by India and would reflect the greatness of the new country. In 1959 Ayub Khan decided to move the capital to the shadow of the Margalla Hills near Pakistan's third largest city, Rawalpindi. The move was completed in 1963, and the new capital was named Islamabad (abode of Islam). The population of Islamabad continues to increase rapidly, and the official 1991 estimate of just over 200,000 has probably been much exceeded.

Data as of April 1994

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