According to a recent media report an estimated amount of Rs 3.5 billion, meant for development in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), remained unutilized in the last financial year owing to procedural flaws and official incapacities. It may be mentioned that for the outgoing fiscal year the federal government had initially promised Rs 12 billion for the Annual Development Plan (ADP) of FATA. Afterwards the amount was slashed down to Rs. 10 billion for reasons best known to the federal government. This speaks volumes of the interest and earnestness of the government to the development in FATA. If this attitude remains there no development could take place in the tribal areas and no issue including religious extremism and terrorism that have been the direct outcome of the underdevelopment of the regions could be addressed.
The fall out of the Soviet-Afghan War and the ensuing civil war there on FATA has since long directly started threatening Pakistan interest and indirectly American interest. Otherwise, FATA after their instrumental role in the Soviet-Afghan War were left in the lurch and their inhabitants on the mercy of fundamentalist elements, given birth and bred by American dollars and Zia Ul Haq’s client service role to the US. The religious fundamentalist elements in FATA due to deliberate absence of government writ amass such strength that it is now akin to the proverbial hydra-headed monster.
During the Afghan War and especially after it the economy of FATA and the overall development suffered severely. Both economic deprivation and under development have been the root causes of the unrest in all its forms and manifestation in FATA. The strategic location of Pakistan’s tribal areas rendered them internationally importance in the last two centuries. It may be mentioned that after the announcement by former US President George W. Bush regarding the establishment of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in FATA during his maiden visit to Pakistan many years back as well as Pakistan government own plan of creating economic opportunity zones in the tribal areas about the same time hope have been high that FATA were put on the track of development. However, none of the plans have seen the light of the day so far and there are serious doubts about their future.
Pervez Musharraf regime had promised to earmarked Rs. 50 billion to be spent on FATA’s development over five years. For the last few years the government spending in the form of Annual Development Plan (ADP) for FATA has also shown some increase. However, keeping in view large-scale underdevelopment these allocations have been peanuts. Given the fact that the concerned departments could not utilize even this meagre amount for the uplift purposes makes one quite pessimistic about the developments process in the region. Consequently, there has been no worth a name economic and infrastructural development in FATA on the ground. The corruption of political administration, maliks and contractors has been a strong independent variable in this situation. Therefore, if an elaborate and exhaustively pondered development strategy is not devised any future plan of development of FATA would prove a bubble. Moreover, same would happen if large sums are not invested as amount of Rs 50 billion over five years has failed to bring about any change in the tribal areas.
The prevailing socio-economic conditions in FATA are so appalling that requires the injection of at least that amount every year into its development process in order to link it to the country’s mainstream economy and thus preventing the country in particular the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) from its ill-effects. In short the economic development needs of the FATA are enormous.
Therefore, to attain the goal of economic development and through it reversing fundamentalist tendencies in tribal areas the proposed development strategy should take into consideration the socio-economic ground realities and in its light should determine the economic development needs. For instance, there is large-scale unemployment in the tribal areas while the poverty ratio is more than 70 percent officially. So, the economic development strategy must be designed in such a way that it has tangible deliverables in short time as befittingly as possible so to address both the acute issues of poverty and unemployment of these areas on war footings. The problem of unemployment in FATA is of particular significance and needs to be looked into.
The economic development strategy for FATA while focusing on unemployment must take into account the demographic variable of 46 percent below 15 years of population ratio in the total population of FATA. Youths who have been falling prey to the religious fundamentalists’ web as the latter have been providing financial succour to them and thus make their economic deprivation as a point of exploitation. Many youths have joined the ranks of the insurgents for the stipend which the insurgent groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are believed to pay to their fighters. So if it is thought by someone that youths have been joining the bandwagon of local clergy to set up Taliban brigades because they have been highly religiously motivated people they were completely at a wrong. The unemployment factor has been the underlying reason for inflating Taliban’s ranks.
Next point in a viable development strategy of FATA should be the sustainability of the development process. Sustainability of the economic development in the peculiar socio-economic milieu of FATA must have its own value and meanings. Due to tribal structure and conservative social institutions there would always be a threat of the process of development falling through. In order that the process should change the social institutions and through it the tribal structure and to prevent the latter to spoke in the wheels of development it must be colossal at the outset. A sort of vertical-horizontal approach of development could work wonders in the very specific context of tribal areas. Under the vertical strand of the approach government should inject more than Rs 50 billion a year by putting into place a mega infrastructure. The horizontal approach would ensure the distribution of development funds uniformly in all the tribal territories.
(The writer is a political analyst and researcher specializing in Political-Economy and religious extremism and terrorism: firstname.lastname@example.org)