Punjab-Punjab Relationship where is it headed?

Since the last few years the ties between the Punjabs seem to be at their zenith. It would be safe to say that in the last 60 years never has the relationship been so cordial and at no stage (apart from diasporic Punjabis) has the feeling of Punjabiat been so strong. However if one really analyzes the relationship it is just a beginning and it would not be incorrect to say that what we have achieved is just a drop in the ocean.

While a lot is being done in the cultural sphere, very few organizations apart from The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) and CRRID (Center for Research in Rural and Industrial Development) are looking at other areas where there can be cooperation like health, education- joint research and exchanges, organized tourism and of course formal trade. Culture and emotion can begin a relationship however to sustain it we have to focus on economics.

In the rural areas till a few years ago there was no awareness about the advantage of Punjab-Punjab cooperation, however ever since the Punjabi farmer began to realize the economic benefits which would accrue to him if the borders open up, things have changed even in villages of East Punjab. Similarly small traders in Amritsar and Ferozepur have also begun to realize the benefits and have set up lobbies to pressurize the government for opening the Wagah and Hussainiwala trade routes.

While it is true that trade will take some time to pick up as it has to be done within the ambit of SAFTA (The South Asian Free Trade Agreement) both the Punjabs, should seriously work at exchange programs between educational institutions. A serious attempt was made to start an exchange between PAU and Faisalabad but for some reasons that could not take off. There should be a special focus on an exchange between Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar and Forman Christian College, Lahore as both cities share so much in common and had been “twin cities” in the past. Currently most students from Lahore visit Delhi for two reasons, firstly the visa procedures and secondly since the top educational institutions in Lahore have more international exposure than those in East Punjab. While this phenomenon is good for the overall peace process it does not help the Punjab-Punjab relationship much. If there are educational exchanges between the two both sides could learn a lot especially in the social sciences. The interactions will also help in removing misconceptions which some students have in their minds.

Both Punjabs should encourage tourism, there should be a focus on show casing the rich culture so that more tourists are encouraged. While West Punjab has been encouraging Punjabis from India to visit their religious shrines. East Punjab needs to showcase its culture, especially the Sufi Heritage, which it possesses close to Amritsar and other important cities. Currently West Punjab has done a far better job in bolstering its tourism, especially in attracting tourists from East Punjab. It should be a two way process so that not only are there economic gains but the trust and understanding builds.

Another area which could be given some emphasis is carrying on the two Punjab games and holding a three or five match Indo-Pak cricket, hockey series alternating between Lahore and Amritsar. This would generate revenues and be another way of reviving the Amritsar-Lahore relationship. While for all these moves there will be problems, mainly political, where there is a will there is definitely a way and the time is ripe. While it may be premature to talk about “Punjab-Punjab Cooperation”, we can talk about a truly cordial “Punjab-Punjab” relationship beyond one or two day cultural conferences. In no way do I underestimate the strength of culture but in the current day and age culture is not enough to convince people about the advantages of a particular move. We need a “combo” of culture and economics to do so.

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