Sialkot (Urdu and Punjabi: سيالكوٹ) is a city in Punjab, Pakistan. Sialkot is Pakistan’s 13th largest city by population and is located in north-east Punjab—one of Pakistan’s most industrialized regions. Along with the nearby cities of Gujranwala and Gujrat, Sialkot forms part of the so-called Golden Triangle of industrial cities with export-oriented economies.
Sialkot is wealthy relative to other cities in South Asia, with an estimated 2014 per capita income of $2800 (nominal). The city has been noted by The Economist for its entrepreneurial spirit, and productive business climate that has made Sialkot an example of a small Pakistani city that has emerged as a “world-class manufacturing hub.” The relatively small city exported approximately $2 billion worth of goods in 2015 or about 10% of Pakistan’s total exports. Sialkot is also home to the Sialkot International Airport—Pakistan’s first privately owned public airport.
Sialkot is believed to be the site of ancient Sagala, a city razed by Alexander the Great in 326 BCE, and then made the capital of the Indo-Greek kingdom by Menander I in the 2nd century BCE—a time during which the city greatly prospered as a major center for trade and Buddhist thought. Sialkot continued to be a major political center until it was eclipsed by Lahore around the turn of the first millennium. The city rose again in prominence during the British era, and is now one of Pakistan’s most important industrial centers.
The recorded history of Sialkot, a district of modern-day Pakistan, covers thousands of years. It has since its creation changed hands from Aryan, Persian, Hindu, g Greek, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, and British rule to the present-day federation of Pakistan.
There are various sources tracing the origins of the city of Sialkot but the authenticity of many of these sources varies. The less-reliable historical sources about the origins of the city have been derived from oral traditions. More reliable and validated historical references relating to the city date back to 327 BC in which it has been stated that the city is of Greek origin. Excavations throughout the area have revealed large amounts of Greek coins, ancient Zoroastrian temples, and several Buddhist stupas. The antiquities of Sialkot have also been discussed by Sir Alexander Cunningham in his Archaeological Survey Reports, II, 21, 22, and XIV, 44 to 47.
Sialkot features a humid subtropical climate (Cwa) under the Köppen climate classification, with four seasons. The post-monsoon season from mid-September to mid-November remains hot during the daytime, but nights are cooler with low humidity. In the winter from mid-November to March, days are mild to warm, with occasionally heavy rainfalls occurring. Temperatures in winter may drop to 0 °C or 32 °F, but maxima are very rarely less than 15 °C or 59 °F.
Sialkot’s core is composed of the densely populated Old City, while northeast of the city lies the vast colonial-era Sialkot Cantonment – characterized by wide streets and large lawns. The city’s industries have developed in a “ribbon-like” pattern along with the cities main arteries, and are almost entirely dedicated to export. The city’s sporting good firms are not concentrated in any part of the city but are instead spread throughout Sialkot. Despite the city’s overall prosperity, the local government has failed to meet Sialkot’s basic infrastructure needs.
Sialkot is a wealthy city relative to the rest of Pakistan and South Asia, with a per capita income in 2014 estimated at $2800. The city was considered to be one of British India’s most industrialized cities, though its economy would later be largely decimated by violence and capital flight following the Partition. The city’s economy rebounded, and Sialkot now forms part of the relatively industrialized region of northern Punjab that is sometimes referred to as the Golden Triangle.
Sialkot has been noted by Britain’s The Economist magazine as a “world-class manufacturing hub” with strong export industries. As of 2015, Sialkot exported US$2 billion worth of goods which is equal to 9% of Pakistan’s total exports (US$22 billion). 250,000 residents are employed in Sialkot’s industries, with most enterprises in the city being small and funded by family savings. Sialkot’s Chamber of Commerce had over 6,500 members in 2010, with most activity in the leather, sporting goods, and surgical instruments industry. The Sialkot Dry Port offers local producers quick access to Pakistani Customs, as well as to logistics and transportation.
Despite being cut off from its historic economic heartland in Kashmir, Sialkot has managed to position itself into one of Pakistan’s most prosperous cities, exporting up to 10% of all Pakistani exports. Its sporting goods firms have been particularly successful, and have produced items for global brands such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Puma. Balls for the 2014 FIFA World Cup were made in Sialkot.
Sialkot’s business community has joined with the local government to maintain the city’s infrastructure, as the local government has limited capacity to fund such maintenance. The business community was instrumental in the establishment of Sialkot’s Dry Port in 1985, and further helped re-pave the city’s roads. Sialkot’s business community also largely funded the Sialkot International Airport—opened in 2011 as Pakistan’s first privately owned public airport, which now offers direct flights from Sialkot to Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Sialkot is the world’s largest producer of hand-sewn footballs, with local factories manufacturing 40~60 million footballs a year, amounting to roughly 60% of world production. The 2014 FIFA World Cup’s footballs were made by Forward Sports, a company based in Sialkot. The clustering of sports goods industrial units has allowed for firms in Sialkot to become highly specialized and to benefit from joint action and external economies. There is a well-applied child labor ban, the Atlanta Agreement, in the industry since a 1997 outcry, and the local industry now funds the Independent Monitoring Association for Child Labour to regulate factories.
Sialkot is also the world’s largest center of surgical instrument manufacturing. Sialkot was first noted to be a center of metalwork in the 1890s, and the city’s association with surgical instruments came from the need to repair, and subsequently manufacture, surgical instruments for the nearby Mission hospital. By the 1920s, surgical instruments were being manufactured for use throughout British India, with demand boosted by further by World War Two.
The city’s surgical instrument manufacturing industry benefits from a clustering effect, in which larger manufacturers remain in close contact with smaller and specialized industries that can efficiently perform contracted work. The industry is made up of a few hundred small and medium-sized enterprises, supported by thousands of subcontractors, suppliers, and those providing other ancillary services. The bulk of exports are destined for the United States and European Union.
Sialkot first became a center for sporting goods manufacturing during the colonial era. Enterprises were initially established for the recreation of British troops stationed along the Northwest Frontier. Nearby timber reserves served to initially attract the industry to Sialkot. The city’s Muslim craftsmen generally manufactured the goods, while Sikh and Hindu merchants of the Sindhi Bania, Arora, and Punjabi Khatri castes acted like middlemen to bring goods to the market. Sialkot now produces a wide array of sporting goods, including football and hockey sticks.
Sialkot is also noted for its leather goods. Leather for footballs is sourced from nearby farms, while Sialkot’s leather workers craft some of Germany’s most prized leather lederhosen trousers.
A dual-carriageway connects Sialkot to the nearby City of Wazirabad, with onwards connections throughout Pakistan via the N-5 National Highway, while another dual carriageway connects Sialkot to Daska, and onwards to Gujranwala and Lahore. Sialkot and Lahore are also connected through the motorway (M11), which is the north-south motorway in Punjab. The total length of this motorway is 103 km. It was completely opened on 18 March 2020 at the cost of 44 billion rupees. It has reduced the travel time between Sialkot and Lahore to 50 minutes from two hours (through the other route via N5/GT).
Sialkot Junction railway station is the city’s main railway station and is serviced by the Wazirabad–Narowal Branch Line of the Pakistan Railways.
Sialkot International Airport is located 8.7 east of the city in the town of Sambrial. It was established in 2007 by spending 4 billion rupees by the Sialkot business community. It is Pakistan’s only privately owned public airport and offers flights throughout Pakistan with also direct flights to Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, France, UK, and Spain.
Sialkot International Airport has launched their own airline named AirSial. It was founded in October 2017 by Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry.