Although there has been much national and international attention on FATA in recent years but there has been negligible focus on the economy of the region particularly its complex and peculiar problems. Resultantly the conflict in FATA could not be realistically addressed and resolved.
If one has to look into the root causes of the conflict in FATA the study could not be complete without taking into consideration economic and financial woes of the tribesmen and tribeswomen. Economic miseries have significantly contributed to the conflict in the tribal areas and if it has to be addressed these issues ought to be addressed at the very onset.
Economically, FATA are completely in tatters with more than 70 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. It is absolute poverty and not the relative poverty. This can be gauged from the fact that the per capita income is only half of that of Pakistan which is around 470 dollars. It means that tribesmen are enmeshed in abject poverty because they are earning less than a dollar a day going by that calculation. Extensive agriculture, due to rocky and mountainous lands, is very little while the only other option that of manufacturing sector is almost non-existent. This situation persists, despite of the fact that the strategic location of FATA gave them great economic advantage. In particular for export oriented industries exporting to Afghanistan where there is great demand of both consumer and capital goods because of the mammoth construction and rehabilitation going on there.
But due to constant economic woes, people in tribal areas resort to certain illegal activities taking advantage of the closed system of their areas. The impact of economic problems on the social psychology of the residents of the tribal areas has been quite negative. Inhabitants of FATA being deprived of any positive approach towards the life and the rising influence of clerics that have been serving the vested interests to keep intact the status quo and provoking them on so-called Jehad against unidentified enemies give fundamentalism an open theatre to thrive. The biggest manifestation of this situation has been the rise of terrorism from the region. Although tribesmen are not terrorists but certain terrorists have made tribal territories their abode. In fact, the social structure in FATA and the extremely weak state presence and writ there provided what has been termed as enabling or permissive environment to the terrorists.
In this regard the accusations of the West, Afghanistan and indications of our own former president General (R) Pervez Musharraf have not being without substance. Here one thing should be kept in mind that it has been the ultra-religious and Pakhtoon propensities especially of hospitality of the tribesmen that have been exploited by foreign terrorists and clerics alike. So for all this economic deprivation has been the main reason coupled with lack of education.
Though under pressure from the World, Pakistan has had announced a number of special economic packages for FATA but they have not been able to have any impact at all in terms of improving the economic and financial status of the residents of the tribal areas. If such economic packages could not bring any qualitative economic change in the lives of the tribesmen and tribeswomen how come they could be expected to alleviate mass poverty and unemployment there? FATA needs injection of billions of dollars to ricochet the fundamentalist tendencies and counter-terrorism that have made the lives of all Pakistanis miserable.
To solve economic problems of FATA certain experts have suggested their inclusion in the National Finance Commission (NFC). Presently, only provinces are allocated resources under the NFC which means FATA, which have a population almost equal to Balouchistan, are not allocated directly from the federal taxes. This also strengthens the argument that FATA must be made a province. FATA exemption from the tax net cannot be made an argument to deny them share from the Federal Divisible Pool as they do contribute substantially to the tax revenues in the form of indirect taxation.
Since 1901 when Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) was introduced in FATA and the system of political agent administration, the top official, the political agents, have enjoyed unchecked financial powers. This gradually became the base of large-scale corruption. In fact, the term ‘uncrowned king’ used in the tribal areas for the political agent has mainly been due to uncountable un-audited funds he has had in his coffers. The money he gets from multifarious sources. A handsome amount of money is collected by political administrations from perpetrators of illegal activities either as fine or by giving them a free hand. Even today the situation is quite the same rather it has deteriorated due to the ever-complexity of criminal networks.
Moreover, the development funds, which have been granted by foreign countries and agencies as well as the federal government, go down the drain or land in individual pockets of officials of political administration due to the absence of any viable evaluation and monitoring system on the administrative apparatus of FATA. Some of the individuals and agencies that intent to offer their services for monitoring of the utilization of development funds to the government have never been encouraged. Consequently, development only takes place in official files with no physical whereabouts.
In order to ensure the correct utilization of the funds allocated for the development of FATA, a transparent financial and accounting management system is exigent. In this regard, a separate annual budgetary statement for FATA under the supervision of the federal or provincial government would go a long away in the right direction.
Establishment of a separate Auditor General Office serves the purpose of financial transparency better. Great amount of resources that are misused in the name of ‘secret funds’ placed at the disposal of the political agents must be abolished. The ‘Moajib/Lungi System’ in vogue in tribal areas must be done away with as it has always been used as a tool of political bribery of the influential elders (Maliks) at the cost of the common tribesmen.
The joint or community ownership in the tribal areas is a great hindrance in the way of economic growth. So a state initiated land settlement should be carried out as individual ownership of land would enable the inhabitants of tribal belt to acquire loans for businesses giving their lands as collaterals. It would also lessen opportunities of blocking improvement of physical infrastructure, which is compromised in political and tribal disputes in FATA. The collective ownership has also been a source of great tribal animosities and thus bloodshed. This may also inject a sense of individualism that is a prerequisite to end primitive tribal mindset.
Tribal areas have always been scene of free trade i.e. transaction of goods having zero tariffs. For this reasons these areas have also earn a bad name but the non-locals are unaware of the ground realities. A number of bigwigs of Pakistani establishment have been involved in this game. Now the need is to transform this old practice and to give this a locus standi. The re-construction exercise in Afghanistan and the opening of Central Asia provides a golden opportunity for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in particular. The establishment of a Free Trade Zone in FATA would greatly help in facilitating trade with the landlocked Afghanistan and beyond it the Central Asia.
These are a few measures, which if implemented, could go a long way in improving the economic conditions of the inhabitants of FATA. FATA economy needs to be given immediate attention because it is the most neglected area.
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