Prime Minister Imran Khan should be commended for his words regarding the uplift of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The whole point of the merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was to ensure that the area was brought up to par with the rest of the country, and it is positive that the federal and provincial governments of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf also recognise this fact. The erstwhile tribal areas need the government to prioritise on both development and establishing the rule of law to see gradual improvement.

Having said that, there needs to be an element of greater accountability and transparency in the developmental process. Words alone will not bring the former tribal areas up to the level of other provinces. Nor will this be a short-term endeavour. Providing access to healthcare, education, basic amenities and law and order takes both time and planning, and it is hoped that the KP government is cognisant of this fact.

The Prime Minister asked the provincial government to provide more jobs and economic opportunities in the region, but this is easier said than done. The government can only improve employment opportunities in developmental programmes, but for a lasting and thriving job market, initiatives will also have to be taken by the private sector. Too long have the former tribal districts been seen as no-go areas and virtually inaccessible to outsiders; and if the government is truly serious about development and progress, this perspective must be changed by the government before anything else.

There are funds earmarked for the development of the region, but it is unclear which facet the provincial government is prioritising on, if any. Whether there is a specific roadmap to development is also questionable. Since the government needs partnership with the private sector to increase access to employment in former FATA, perhaps announcing the progress made and what it is looking to focus on next needs to be made a mandatory part of the developmental work.

Ultimately, the government must remember that a merger can only be deemed fully successful if both areas will one day have the exact same level of development, without any discrepancies or differences. That is the only real yardstick to measure the government’s efforts in the region; anything less will be seen as the provincial government playing favourites. No one is expecting that the KP government can achieve all of this within a year or two, but only lofty goals and ambitions will get the tribal regions to the level the whole country wants them to be at.