Located near old Multan, Khanewal is comparatively a recently founded town. Its only claim to fame is that it is an important destination on the map of Pakistan Railways. Busy railway junction, railway workshop, pre stressed concrete sleeper factory and huge shunting yards have developed a sort of railway culture in this agricultural market town. National highway also passes the town but people mostly uses railways for travelling and transportation.
This area was a vast grazing land before the excavation of Lower Bari Doab Canal. As per the local lore, the grass from this land used to go as far as Burma during the Second World War.
Travelling from Lahore to Khanewal on the National Highways, one still finds the forestland on the west of the Highway and railway track that are laid side by side. Legend has it that that Dewan Sanwal Mall, the famous Sikh governor of Multan appointed Farid Khan as an administrator in order to collect the grazing tax from the livestock owners and he founded the town. The other story is that Daha tribe inhabited the area over 300 years ago. The hamlet was named “khan-e-wal” after Daha Khans. Canal colony was established here in1912. With rapid the growth in population, the modern town was planed and set up in 16 blocks. Khanewal was declared district headquarters on July 1, 1985.
Strategic forestland with wild bushy trees in the suburbs of the town is ideally suited for any industrial projects. Rail and road communication network main national arteries, web of “farm to market roads” and airport in Multan are close at hand. Kamran Khan, a progressive farmer says, “Food processing and packing plant should be installed in Khanewal. Its products may be exported to the Muslim world where presently the food trade is monopolised by countries like Australia, New Zealand or Holland”. Kamran has quite an interest in the international marketing. He surprised me by telling that melons with neatly trimmed stems sold in cardboard or wooden boxes can cost from 2500 to 10,000 Yen in Japan. “We have a lot of quality fruit in Pakistan that could be marketed world wide as a gift items. The national airliner earns millions of foreign exchange each year by airlifting tons of fruit to Gulf, Middle East and United Kingdom out of which major load is of mangoes produced only in this region”, he said.
Those who take their chance on the train to Khanewal have to muscle their way to this town thought the waves of tongas, rickshaws and animal drawn carts. And that is the first taste (and smell) of the railway town, which is full of animal transport. But first they have to negotiate layers of persistent sellers who roam about on the railway station exhibiting their merchandise on shoulders: from baby garments from Faisalabad to blue pottery from Multan.
Over crowding, population increase power outages and water shortages have all played their role in turning this small hamlet into a sprawling slum. Animal transport is probably the pervasive and correctable problem of Khanewal. The common means of transport in the town is sturdy and inexpensive tonga. It is Khanewal’s vehicle of convenience, which has come to symbolise the town. “The tongas (and rehras) move very slow and can not keep pace with other traffic hence cause traffic congestion on dilapidated roads where right of way has already been reduced due to excessive encroachments. The refuse of the horses and donkeys is a common cause of tautness and fill the atmosphere with offensive odour,” says a young dentist Madeha Kanwal.
Sometime very young boys are also seen holding the reins of horses who drive the tongas overloaded with passengers and goods. Accidents involving animals (untrained wild, unwilling horses or donkeys) are the commonest scenes on roads of the town. Much more than tongas and rehras registered with municipality come from the suburb to do the business in the town every day. “Tonga is the only business I can do,” informed a kochwan who started talking while bringing me to our destination down town. “I bring school girls from an adjoining village to the town and take them home after school and during school hours I work at the Railway Station and bus terminal in the town. My incomes varies between three to seven hundred rupees a day,” he added.
Situated on Karachi Peshawar main rail and road national arteries, Khanewal has exponentially growing trade links with Faisalabad, a major cotton trade centre of Pakistan. Degree colleges (one for boys and another for girls) in the town are playing important role in the education of the youth in the area.
A short walk in the town reveals the neglect of all concerned particularly the city development agencies. It seems that the town does not have a soul. Stadiums is poorly maintained and hardly used. The whiff from open sewerages drain passing adjacent to the stadium is prevailing all around. Similarly the road passing in front of the mosque (between block number 1 and block number 2) remains full of mud and a bowl like locality Ghrabi Abad Muhallah — over 125 years old — remains inundated even in dry seasons. And a light shower and plays havoc with all the roads and streets in the town and water enter in the houses.
So after the sweat, joy and frustration of the journey what has the town to offer in terms of social life or culinary delights? Nothing really. Certainly there are no operas theatres and concerts nor was Khanewal ever famous for its cuisine. For you appetite, there are many eating joints serving karahi gosht with a rich splash of desi makhan. Its sohan halwa is very popular among the locals as well as the foreigners. People usually go to Multan for any celebration or recreation. The town is littered with private clinics and private schools both proliferating professions any where in the country. You can see one at every corner.