Without any doubt, the population of the former FATA and now merged tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has been suffering for the last 20 years with the start of the war on terror and its focus on neighbouring Afghanistan.
The most affected part of the tribal population has been its largest but young section. The young people living in former FATA faced terrorism, military operations, displacements, and economic losses. The suffering created multiple frustrations in the population of the merged tribal districts and the frustrations are now been capitalized upon groups, like the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). The PTM, in the garb of ethnic rights, has been exploiting the sentiments of the young men and women of the tribal districts for its vested interest of pitting the people against the state. This is, indeed, a very dangerous situation for the country and its institutions. So, there may be other means to negotiate with such groups but the best way to dissuade people from extending their support to them by taking solid measures.
There has been a least interest in the region itself and its people, particularly their needs and aspirations. This has created a lot of confusion in the minds of the outsiders about the inhabitants of the erstwhile FATA. The realty has been that the residents of the tribal areas are humans, like any other place of the world. They are as genius, hardworking and desirous of development as people elsewhere. However, social structures and structures of governance, the state had designed for the region, have prevented the people of the tribal areas from using their genius, to engage in hard work and development.
The potential of the youthful portion of the former FATA population has never been felt by the state authorities. Politicians and political governments as well as the bureaucracy, all are responsible for the callous attitude towards the young men and women of the merged tribal districts.
Only the young men and women of the region know their real problems, developmental needs and aspirations. Therefore, they need to be heard. This would give a new dimension to the policies on the region and make them more rationale, having the potential of success.
Noticeably, the highest number of people among the ranks of the Pakistani militant and terrorist groups had comprised young men from former FATA. Moreover, after 9/11 the merged tribal districts of KP had become the largest terrorist, hub using the name of Islam. Against this backdrop, it was expected that the government must have a well-articulated policy in place for educating and employing the youths of the regions. Lack of education and employment opportunities have been the biggest pull and push factors for youths to join militant and terrorist organizations. The pull of becoming popular and have power and the push of adverse personal and family economic position have driven thousands of youths towards the terrorist and militant groups. On the other hand, it is also important to note that most of the militant commanders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been young men from the ex-FATA. Hakimullah Mehsud, the former head of the TTP, who was said to be in his early 30s, was a case in point. In this context, formulation and full-fledge execution of a youth policy for the former FATA was critical. As the policy was not formulated, the situation went out of control of the authorities and more and more youths of the region fell prey to the propaganda and pull of the charm of possessing arms of the militants.
Now, due to a policy vacuum about the young population of the merged tribal districts of KP, their frustrations remains unaddressed and has become more seething. As militant groups in the region have been defeated by the state forces, the youths are no more attracted and compelled to join the armed militias. However, they are now getting attracted towards groups, like PTM, which is exploiting the situation to the hilt.
The formulation of a policy to address the problems and issues of the youth of former FATA as well as to enable them to use their talent in the best of manners for the country, society and community has been of extraordinary importance. The policies ought to respond to the needs and issues of the youths, otherwise they cannot be termed “policies.” The reason is that policies are made to benefit the people, rather their greatest number.
Importantly, 80 per cent of the people of the former FATA were dependent on farming and natural resources. There is a need for sustained investment in the industrial, mineral, and technical education sectors. It will revive the livelihood and engage more and more young people.
The rate of education among the youth of the former FATA is extremely low. Without significant percentage of the population, that is at least 70 percent uneducated, the process of change in the tribal regions cannot be meaningfully started, implemented and sustained. Therefore, policymakers must lay out ways and means to increase the rate of literacy in the tribal districts.
As the tribal areas lag far behind in economic and infrastructure development, youth-specific policies must chart out the areas and the processes within the areas where the young men and women could play their role in the economic and infrastructure development of the region.
It is high time to address the frustration of the young men and women of the merged tribal districts, otherwise groups, like the PTM, would continue to emerge and exploit their sentiments, creating more and more problems for the state and society.