The federal government is all set to initiate around one thousand billion rupees worth of development strategy in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas, now merged into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The spending would be done over the period of 10 years. According to Prime Minister Imran Khan, every year Rs100 billion would be spent on the development of the merged districts.
Keeping in view huge developmental challenges in the merged tribal districts (former FATA) of KP, the Rs1,000 billion is not substantial. The government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) may be trying to portray that such an amount could bring about extensive development in the region but this is a misperception. Here, it may be mentioned that in the last 15 years, terrorists and militants have played havoc in the tribal districts and there has been large-scale death, displacement and destruction there. However, it is a gross misstatement that the destruction in the tribal districts has resulted in razing to the ground the infrastructure, because there was no worthwhile infrastructure in the tribal areas even before the terror war. The fact of the matter is that it was primarily due to the absence of any worthwhile infrastructure, or for that matter, development which gave birth to gross disenchantment and discontentment within the population, which in turn, resulted in the rise and proliferation of extremism and terrorism in the region. Therefore, the entire tribal region has to be developed from scratch. Now the million dollar question is what should be the strategy to develop the tribal districts?
In order to develop the merged tribal districts of KP, several aspects must be kept in mind. Firstly, the development strategy must be based on the local development needs of the region and the people. Here, it is important to note that the region has been extensively underdeveloped and it would not be a misstatement that the erstwhile FATA is one of the most underdeveloped regions of the contemporary world. This was the reason that the tribal districts, which straddle Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, itself one of the most underdeveloped countries, became a huge sanctuaries for the most dreaded terrorist groups on the globe, AlQaeda, as well as ferocious militant organizations, like the Islamic Jihad Union and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). So, the entire infrastructure of roads, bridges, buildings, schools, hospitals and government secretariats needs to be built in the region from scratch. This is indeed a daunting task and if successive governments go on spending money in this regard, it would still find itself wanting. Therefore, the government must hold a conference of friendly donor institutions and countries and solicit huge funds for the development of the former FATA. The PTI government could argue with international donor organizations and countries that as the FATA had become the hub of international terrorism, which Pakistan eliminated with great sacrifices and efforts, but it is only part of the solution. Because if the region remains underdeveloped, there is every possibility that once again international terrorist outfits may find sanctuaries and sympathizers there. One knows that international organizations and western countries as well as Japan are very much interested in development of the former FATA, so the government has to present the case to them in a very forceful manner.
Coming to the point of consulting the people of the merged districts to assess their development needs, it must be mentioned that this is quite important but not sufficient condition for development. Obviously, assessing the needs of the people so that to make them part of the development strategy is very important for any development policy to succeed. In this regard, the PTI government has already started the consultative process from Bajaur district, which is quite an encouraging step. Every merged tribal district has peculiar development needs while all have common issues to be addressed. People could give the state authorities very significant input, which to a certain extent, must be incorporated in the overall strategy. But here one point must be kept in the mind by the government functionaries that inhabitants of the tribal areas of KP are not that educated and cosmopolite, so that they could understand the entire concept of development as well as the trends and best practices of uplift followed across the world. Therefore, the government must consult the most knowledgeable individuals and organizations to design the development strategy. Without any doubt, the local context must be fully taken into consideration. The inhabitants of the tribal districts would generally demand infrastructure development, the provision of employment and funds to initiate businesses or expand the existing ones. However, just concentrating on these demands and believing that it would bring about a huge positive change is myopic. More important is the factor of quality education and training, particularly focusing on attitudes and behaviour change. The employment of technology to educate the inhabitants of the tribal districts could be the key to making their attitudes development-oriented.
A very important aspect of the development strategy in the merged districts of the Tribal Areas is to establish cities in the region, as it does not have even one noteworthy urban centre. Development of new cities would need expertise, technology and, above all, huge funds but the government has to provide them what come may. The cities could provide the whole environment for multidimensional development of the region. Cities would not only provide civilized living spaces to the dwellers of the merged districts but also have extensive and profound wholesome impact on their attitudes and behaviours.
The development policy for the merged districts of KP must have an economic strand. Here, some important realities must be kept in the mind by the decision-makers. Firstly, extensive industrialization is not possible in the region due to its location, far away from seaports. Secondly, any industries, if established there, would not be competitive. Thirdly, the region could not attract huge industrial investment. Therefore, the strategists must include the development of the agriculture and, particularly, the services sector to bring about a positive change in the region. Insofar as the services sector is concerned, the establishment of cities in the merged districts could be instrumental in this regard, because main services including transportation, telecommunication, hoteling, media and, most importantly, education could be developed in the cities. This sector could employ a huge number of young men and women in the merged districts.
Any development strategy in the tribal belt of KP could not be successful, if it would not take into consideration the uplift of the females. Females have always been marginalized in the tribal districts and they have had no role in decision-making including their own lives and destinies. Without providing the women population of the merged tribal districts with opportunities to have personal development, they could not play their critical role in the overall development of the region.
So the development of the former FATA is the need of the hour but the points discussed must be kept in the mind to develop and implement the policy for uplift in the region.