FATA - Challenges versus opportunities

Following the passage of 25th constitutional amendment, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) constitutionally stand merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). However the decision that was taken in haste without having done a good homework beforehand has left a lot of questions to be answered and a lot of challenges to be met.

The basic objectives of the Fata merger were to plug in the political vacuum and provide a workable and efficient legal and administrative structure to the people of the marginalised area to bring it at par with the rest parts of the country and put an end to the decades long sense of frustrations and deprivation of the people they have developed over the years.

The job is, however, not as simple as it seems to be. Achieving the desired results would require huge financial and administrative commitments on part of the federal as well as provincial governments. Is the government ready to take up the challenge? If yes, how can we make opportunities out of the existing challenges?

The area that was already lagging behind in almost all development indicators further suffered due to militancy in the recent past. During the decade long militancy the area suffered both in terms of men and material. The infrastructure got damaged and the area saw a huge mass displacement as a result of militant activities and subsequent military operations. Seventy three percent of the people are living below poverty line in the war-stricken area.

No doubt, there are a lot of challenges in the way ahead but there are a lot of opportunities too down the road. We need to frame our strategies based on a well-defined and well thought out agenda; how to make opportunities out of the existing challenges.

The mineral rich FATA region has enough potential to create huge business and employment opportunities and help curb the menace of terrorism. According to the figures available with FATA Development Authority (FDA) out of 10,000 million tons indicated reserves of marble, there are 7000 million tons proven reserves. The present extraction of marble stands at 1.616 million tons only. The area has 8 million tons of proven copper reserves while the indicated copper reserves stands at 35 million tons. The region has 6 million tons of indicated soapstone reserves, which is in high demand in Europe. Similarly the region is rich in Gypsum with 200 million tons, Chromite 10, Manganese 5, Silica Sand 600, Dolomite 11, Quartz 3, Cement grade limestone 800, Laterite 20, and Nephrite 10 million tons respectively. Out of 81 million tons of indicated coal reserves, some 8 million proven reserves were found in Kurram tribal district and Darra Adamkhel. The Granite reserves are inexhaustible.

FDA has initiated a number of minerals exploration, infrastructure development and private sector facilitation projects, which, on completion, will provide basis for planning mineral sector activities on scientific lines. This, the expert believe, will promote confidence building of private sector for investment resulting in generation of enormous employment opportunities and supply of indigenous raw material to the local industry. During the last one-year only since the law and order situation has improved, various Oil and Gas companies including OGDCL, Al Haj Enterprises Pvt Ltd, BGP (Pakistan), Xian Seoche, Geofysika Krakow and MOL (Pakistan) have launched explorations activities in different parts of the erstwhile FATA and established base camps at the sites. Some 15 blocks have been allotted to various National and Multinational Exploration and Production companies in erstwhile FATA. More than Rs. 3.5 billion was invested by these Oil and Gas Companies in the area to engage over 2800 tribesmen in different capacities ranging from labourers to mangers and top ranking officials.

The tribesmen would extract these minerals through traditional ways where over half of the extracted stuff would go into waste. The lack of communication and transportation make it even more difficult for the dealers to transports the finished products into the local markets. President of Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) Zahid Shinwari believe if explored scientifically through the use of latest technology, the huge mineral deposits in the area, are more than enough to meet the economic challenges of the entire area for decades to come.

The business opportunities could be multiplied by enhancing bilateral trade with neighbouring Afghanistan. We share 2500-kilometer long border with Afghanistan. There are over 260 different formal and informal routes established alongside the border. The bilateral trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan could be increased up to eight billion dollars from the current $ 500 million dollars annually if effective measures are taken to regularise and formalise the trade through Torkhan border in Khyber Agency, Ghulam Khan border in North Waziristan and Borki-Kharlachi in Kurram Agency.

The picturesque tribal belt offers a lot of potentials for the promotion of tourism. The high-rise mountains, historical passes and famous archaeological sites in the area have a lot of attractions for the local as well as foreign tourists. This will not only generate revenues but also engage a number of youngsters gainfully to save them from being spoiled at the hands of the spoilers.

The newly formed task force on KP-fata merger is determined to accelerate the process and start developmental activities in the area to bring it at par with the rest parts of the country. How they move ahead, is yet to be seen. But the insurgency-hit people with their rising expectations are very much looking forward to the PTI-led government to deliver on their pledges of a ‘real change’ with a clear roadmap on merger mechanism so that the process is completed at its earliest and the people are given a chance to live in peace.


The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.


Dr. Ashraf Ali

Dr. Ashraf Ali

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