The region straddles parts of north India and east Pakistan. Of the Indian and Pakistani communities outside of the respective countries themselves, the Punjabi diaspora is one of the biggest in the world, with large numbers in Great Britain, the United States and the Middle East.
Although the word “Punjab” was used for the first time in the book Tarikh-e-Sher Shah in 1580, the region’s history goes back thousands of years. Alexander the Great’s invasion – over 300 years before the birth of Christ – had a huge affect on the region as a whole, not just Punjab. After Alexander’s invasion Punjab’s rule constantly evolved, with the Sakas, the Kushan and the Guptan Empires all exercising power at various points, until it came under Muslim rule in 713 AD, and where it stayed for the next 600 years.
Conquests of Banda Bahadur at the start of the 18th century saw a period of Sikh rule up until the British arrived. The Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845-46 & 1848-49) were followed by the annexation of Punjab to British India, before falling under British rule completely in 1849.
When the British left and partition finally happened, Punjab was split, with East Punjab becoming part of India and West Punjab becoming part of Pakistan. The partition was based on Hindu and Muslim population majorities, with Muslim areas becoming part of Pakistan and Hindu areas becoming part of India. In reality, the split was extremely ill-judged by the British, with their desperation to get out meaning that the region was abandoned with fighting widespread. Of the conflict that happened across both countries, Punjab was one of the worst affected areas with millions losing their lives.
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While Punjab has its own ethnic ancestry, as a recognised state it has no independent power on the global stage. The region is split across Pakistan and India, with both parts adhering to respective state laws. Both countries split their states into regions within their own domestic political systems – Punjab operates as a administrative unit (in Pakistan) and as a subdivision (in India) at a local government level.
In Pakistani Punjab the vast majority of the population are Muslim, with the bulk of that Sunni Muslim. There are minorities of Shia Muslim, Ahmadi Muslim and Christians, also. Indian Punjab is home to the region’s Hindu and Sikh populations. Punjabi is spoken throughout Punjab as a whole. In India it is the official language, while in Pakistan it is a more provincial language, with Urdu the country’s national language and English also used as an official language.