InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 06

The plight of ex-FATA youths

It has been almost one and a half years since the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. However, the young population of the merged tribal districts is quite dejected due to numerous problems it has been facing.
Although the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) both in Islamabad and Peshawar has made tall claims of coming up with innovative and unprecedented policy to develop the former FATA, yet in real terms nothing seems to have been done so far in this regard.
In terms of institutional and infrastructure development, very little has been done since the FATA was merged with KP. For instance, not even a single university has been established in the merged districts. The only university that was established in the tribal region was set up before the merger. However, the situation in the university leaves a lot to be desired. A university is very important place from young people’s point of view, as it is basically a place where young men and women pursue knowledge and on the basis of the knowledge try to make a qualitative difference in their own and their community’s lives. So, if no university has been established in the merged districts in the last nearly one and a half year, this speaks of the importance of the government attaches to the development of the tribal region.
On the other hand, the government has been able to hold elections for provincial assembly members in the former FATA in which some young men were also elected. However, the elections and their outcome cannot make any difference in the lives of the young population of the merged districts. A real difference institutionally in the former FATA could be made by holding local government elections. The elections would attract a large number of youths to contest, politically participate and even a handsome number could become part of the local councils in their respective districts. However, despite the exigency of the elections, the government has so far been unable to hold them. It may be mentioned that according to the initial plans, first local government elections had to be held in the merged districts, followed by provincial assembly elections. But for unknown reasons local elections could not be held.
The merged districts of KP on the border with Afghanistan have been under the lens of the national and international media for all the wrong reasons for more than a decade. Since 9/11 in the United States and the presence of hideouts of foreign and Pakistani terrorist and militant networks in the former FATA, the world and Pakistanis have been interested in the news about terrorist networks, like Al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operating from the launching pads they had created or found in the former FATA. The need for devising a comprehensive programme or policy to harness the potential of the youthful portion of the FATA population has never been felt by the state authorities. Politicians and political governments as well as the bureaucracy all have been responsible for the callous attitude towards young men and women of the tribal regions.
It was Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Masud Kausar, who as Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the last days of his tenure (early 2013) had directed the authorities to formulate a youth policy for the tribal areas. Asking the administration to frame a youth policy was commendable on part of former Governor Masud Kausar, however, it was surprising that he himself or his administration had not felt the need of the policy after observing the situation personally, which he as governor and his predecessors should have. In fact, ex Governor Masud Kausar had issued directives after meeting a delegation of an organization, FATA Youth Assembly, formed by university students of the region studying at different institutions in KP.
Till date, no comprehensive or even any policy regarding the youth of the merged districts has been formulated despite it was suggested by concerned young and women of the region to the government way back in 2013. This speaks volumes of government’s apathy towards the tribal areas in general and their youths in particular.
While the administration and bureaucracy’s role in the tribal region must be condemned in the strongest words, educated youths of the merged districts must be praised for feeling the need for a youth policy for their region. It means that the region’s youths have been more alive and responsive to the problems of the tribal areas than government departments concerned. Keeping it in view, they should be given a lead role in whatever policymaking is under consideration regarding youths in the region. Only young men and women of the region know their real problems, development needs and aspirations. It will give a new dimension to policies on the region.
It is important to note that the highest number of militants among the ranks of the Pakistani militant and terrorist groups comprise of young men from the former FATA. Moreover, since 9/11 the region had become the largest terrorist haven, using the name of Islam. Against the backdrop it was expected that the government must have a well-articulated policy in place for educating and employing the youths of the region. 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 positions have driven thousands of youths towards the terrorist and militant groups. On the other hand, it is also important to note that most militant commanders of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been young men from the former FATA. Hakimullah Mehsud, the former head of TTP, who is 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 FATA has been critical.
When the policy is formulated is anybody’s guess but the more it is delayed the situation will further get out of the state’s control and more and more youths of the region could fall prey to the propaganda and pull of the charm of possessing of arms of the militants or anti-state elements. The rise of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) is a case in point. Moreover, it is not a matter of merely formulation of the policy on youths of the region, equally important is its execution in the best of manner so that it must benefit the largest number. Only then it would make some meaningful impact to reverse the process of radicalization of young men and women from the region as well as would prevent further depriving the areas of socio-economic and physical development.