The land through which the ancient Indus River and its five tributaries flow and converge, Punjab can be divided into four regions: Balai, Markazi, Gharbi, and Zayreen.
Punjab is defined in huge part by its topography. The name Punjab is derived from two Persian words punj and aab that combine to mean Land of Five Rivers referring to the five tributaries of Indus: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. All five tributaries contain large volumes of water and carry an enormous quantity of sediments. The rivers Beas and Sutlej join together before entering Pakistan, and the other three tributaries join at various different points within Punjab. Eventually all five tributaries meet at Mithankot and travel for another 72 km before joining the Indus River. These five tributaries and the Indus have played a large role in the formation of the Indus Plains, a gently-sloping fertile area ideally suited for agriculture. Punjab can be divided into four regions: Balai, Markazi, Gharbi, and Zayreen.
Balai Punjab, also referred to as Shumali or Northern Punjab, is commonly categorized as the mountainous, hilly and plateau areas in the north of the province. The capital area of Islamabad, the districts of Rawalpindi, Attock, Chakwal, Jhelum and Mianwali all fall within Northern Punjab. This region is differentiated from other parts of the Punjab by the presence of different dialects that are spoken here such as Potohari and Hindko.
The Potwar Plateau and the Salt Range, located between the Indus River and the Jhelum River, constitute much of this area and are rich in mineral resources. Rock salt, limestone, gypsum, coal and oil are all present in this area.
Markazi or Central Punjab, refers to the alluvial planes that are bounded by the southern edge of the Jhelum River down till the Sutlej River. The districts that make up Markazi Punjab are Sargodha, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujrat, Sialkot, Narowal, Gujranwala, Jhang, Hafizabad, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Lahore, Kasur, Toba Tek Singh, Okara, Pakpattan, Sahiwal, Khanewal, Lodhran and Vehari.
Central Punjab is by far the largest and most developed region of Punjab, consisting of one of the most expansive canal irrigation systems in the world. This has allowed for boosted agricultural output and a vast increase in arable land. At one point, the whole of British India depended on the Punjab for wheat production. This region is also a heavy producer of rice and cotton.
Gharbi or Western Punjab, consists of the districts lying near to the Indus River. The topography is defined by the sand derived from the shifting flood plain deposits of the Indus. This includes mostly the Thal Desert and consists of the districts of Khushab, Bhakkar and Layyah.
This region is rich in salt and coal, and has a sizeable cement, sugar and textiles industry. However, levels of poverty are much higher in this region than in Northern or Central Punjab. A nuclear reactor and missile base are present in Khushab.
Zayreen or Southern Punjab, includes the districts of Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan. The Cholistan Desert falls in this region within the districts of Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, and Rahim Yar Khan. This region is part of the Seraiki belt.
This southern region of Punjab is mostly dependent on agriculture for its economy. The district of Bahawalpur leads in the production of cotton, and the export of mangoes. Principle industries include cotton ginning, and flour, sugar and rice milling. The textile industry also contributes to the economy of this region. Poverty levels are significantly higher in Southern Punjab than in other regions.
Nadiem, Ihsan H. Punjab: Land, History, People. Lahore: Al-Faisal Nashran, 2005.