Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, peace and trade in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have suffered. The influx of more than three million Afghan refugees changed the socio-economic dynamics of the region. Scarcity of social services and virtually no job opportunities created resentment among the inhabitants of FATA against the federation. As a result, the youth of the area started joining the militants. The time came for FATA to be called a cause and centre of militancy by many, not only in Pakistan but the entire region. Providentially, these are past stories. The present government has changed the entire socio-economic paradigm of the region.
The present government has focused on the development of trade in FATA. It is trying to establish a new land port authority in Torkham and Chaman, which will create world-class infrastructure, meeting 21st century requirements and improve trade facilities and opportunities. Furthermore, the government is trying to facilitate the local traders of FATA. The government has a vision that the inhabitants of FATA will enjoy a larger share from development in the region. However, there is a need for the government to launch projects for the youth of FATA. Concessional recruitments in the federal government would be a landmark for the socio-economic development of the region. In this regard, the Pakistan army has taken the lead by recruiting cadets through dropping educational and physical standards for the youth of FATA.
The present government has initiated different projects for the economic development of FATA region. The development projects include olive plantation, vocational training, credit financing and investment in the marble sector of FATA. These projects will help FATA usher in a new era of progress and prosperity. Moreover, the government is thinking of allocating funds in the upcoming budget for the fiscal year of 2015-2016 and for holding free and fair local government elections in FATA. Yet, more efforts are required by the federal government, particularly in the education and health sectors.
The central focus should be on the different social, economic and security related issues of FATA. There is no doubt that future economic prospects and the stability of the region are interlinked with the development and security of FATA. This is all part of the government’s economic strategy. Previous governments were shortsighted as they saw the FATA region from the security lens while the present government perceives FATA from the economic lens. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline would cross through this region. For economic development there is a need for security on the western borders and, therefore, the government has pursued the neutrality policy in Afghanistan, not favouring any presidential candidate in the Afghan presidential elections. Later, it developed cordial relations with Afghanistan. There is a need for serious and comprehensive political and administrative reforms in FATA to achieve peace and security in the region. The connectivity with a web of highways along the corridor will change the destiny of the FATA region.
The international community has always known that FATA runs rife with stories of militancy and extremism but, for the last one year, Pakistan has started projecting a soft image of the region by organising conferences and arranging cultural programmes. It is the result of the efforts of this government that the western community is enthusiastically investing in the education sector of this region. More than 600 primary and middle schools were opened with the support of the western community in 2014. The international community is also giving top priority to girls’ education.
The Pashtun nation is the most misunderstood nation, in the same way the issue of Afghanistan is the most misunderstood issue. One of the major problems with the Afghan issue is that all involved parties are not ready to take responsibility for the whole issue. Instead they blame one another. Likewise, the Pashtuns in FATA perceive that the conflict does not belong to them, rather that it is imposed on them. The government needs to diminish this misperception by frequently interacting with the people of FATA. The prime minister, president and leaders of political parties need to visit FATA on a more frequent basis. This will bridge the communication gap that has been exploited by external hostile forces. The post-withdrawal situation in Afghanistan, coupled with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, has had a positive impact on FATA. Hopefully, the people of FATA will see better days in the years to come.
A variant of this article was carried by Daily Times on May 10,2015.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.