The geological surveys of 85 percent of the tribal belt of Pakistan have revealed immense prospects of mineral exploration in the areas. The geological information provides ample evidence that like similar geological environment elsewhere, FATA do have great potential of minerals. In fact, there has been manifold increase in mineral production in FATA for the last few years. From 1994-95 to 2004 mineral production in FATA increased by 35 percent annually on average. In 2004-05 Rs 31.5 million of revenues were earned from auction of mineral checkposts in FATA. Whereas, the total increase in mineral production from 1994-95 in FATA is monumental 219 percent. With so meagre investment the results are quite encouraging.
This growth by any yardstick is substantial because the overall annual growth rate of mineral sector in the whole of Pakistan has been 15 percent. Keeping in view these outcomes there is a need for a very comprehensive and practicable strategy to tap the mineral resources of the FATA.
The concerned authorities have so far identified 19 different minerals’ deposits in tribal areas. These include copper, manganese, chromite, iron ore, lead, barite, soapstone, coal, gypsum, limestone, marble, dolomite, feldspar, quartz, silica san, bentonite, marl, emerald and graphite. The total mineral production in the year 2004-05 remained 1273420 million tons. The largest contribution in this figure was of 579524 million tons marble. Mohmand Agency has the largest deposits of marble followed by the adjacent Bajaur Agency. The share of limestone in FATA mineral production last year was 463484 million tons. The mineral is extracted entirely in Khyber Agency.
Limestone as well as chromite and quartz, the other two minerals extracted from FATA in large quantities, do not have a big market value. However, important mineral like coal has also been taken out in sufficient quantity n FATA. The annual production of coal in 2004-05 was 570519 million tons which was chiefly extracted in Orakzai Agency with some part in neighbouring Kurram Agency. It is hoped that more coal mines would be found in Orakzai Agency as 8.000 million tons of estimated reserves of coal exists in the area.
So far no copper has been extracted anywhere in FATA but large deposits of the mineral exist in North and South Waziristan agencies. For instance, only n Shinkai area of North Waziristan an estimate 27.000 million tones of copper reserves exists. Unfortunately, the proposed plan of copper enrichment in FATA and establishment of a prototype plant at Shinkai have not materialized as yet. The on going operation against foreign militants in the North and South Waziristan, indubitably has hindered further work on the project. But Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) that was entrusted with the responsibility of enhancing the Waziristan Copper reserves up to the internationally feasible level of 80.000 million tones in collaboration with University of Engineering & Technology NWFP, PAEC and Geological Survey of Pakistan, has failed to fulfil its obligation. The writer once served at PSF where the top management was not much concerned about the Waziristan copper project. Keeping in view the incapacity of the organization the project should better be handed over to PAEC or some other national organization of repute. Otherwise, there are apprehensions that it may go down the drain.
Importantly, some pilot studies including the one by a leading Australian University have indicated existence of significant volume of oil and gas reserves in FATA. If these reserves are explored and they start producing oil and gas it would go a long way in bringing about a positive turn around in the lives of inhabitants of the area.
Now when there is significant evidence the FATA possess stupendous potential of various mineral production it is exigent to adroitly handle the situation for maximum benefit. In this connection the foremost responsibility of federal government is to provide conducive security environment in FATA. As mineral exploration requires state-of-the-art technology and high-calibre expertise, not locally available, therefore, if law and order situation is not fully under control it would be impossible to import them from abroad. Moreover, with meagre resources country cannot allocate the required funds for mineral exploration and development in FATA. So again the foreign investment in mineral sector there is indispensable and without encouraging, rather alluring in this case, security environment no one is going to invest in FATA. Fortunately, apart from Waziristan the security situation in the rest of tribal agencies and frontier regions, together forming the tribal belt, is quite good. While the political and strategic interests of the US in FATA can be used to channel her dollars for the mineral sector development.
The potential of mineral sector of FATA could really be exploited upto the hilt if mineral based industries are set-up there. Hitherto called locationally disadvantaged areas due to their remoteness, mineral exploration would offset this position of FATA provided there are local industries which use the raw mineral for value-added products and material.
As mentioned earlier mineral exploration requires sophisticated technology, there is a need that the concerned departments should provide as much technology available in the country. Albeit, without involving the private sector in particular foreign companies appropriate technology cannot be made available for the exploration and development of minerals in FATA. Here it may be mentioned that due to lack of technology and technical know-how tribesmen have been using very outmoded methods of mineral extraction. For instance, in many areas crude forms of explosive are used in a very non-technical way resulting in loss of large quantities of minerals besides lessening their value.
In the strategy of mineral exploration and development in FATA the concerned authorities must ensure that local community must be taken on board especially in the decision-making process. As local community in FATA comprise of tribes the authorities might find it a bit difficult to deal with them while exploring minerals in their respective areas. However, if the social wisdom of the tribesmen is capitalized upon, dealing with them may not be a problem provided they are accordingly compensated. For attaining the objective some sort of social engineering must be employed.
The proposed establishment of mines rescue/safety and labour welfare centre is a right step but instead of only one such centre to be constructed at a cost of Rs 40 million, at least one such centre should be established in every agency.
Last but not the least the media in the area should be used for raising the awareness of tribesmen about minerals and their value. Here the methods of development support communication could prove quite instrumental.
During the financial year 2004-05 only Rs 98.604 million were allocated for mineral exploration in FATA ADP. Now with the substantial increase of funds in ADP in recent years more funds should also be provided for mineral sector development. That would result in sustained indigenous revenue sources for the areas and would lead to ultimate financial self-sufficiency.