Erstwhile FATA deserves more

By: Naseebullah Khan

It is better late than never. The incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Shahbaz Sharif has announced to set up a University, a network of Danish Schools, a medical college, and providing a mobile hospital in North Waziristan. These announcements deserve hail but Ex FATA deserves more.

On the education front, the posture of Ex FATA is dismal where the female literacy rate in ex-FATA is only 7.8 percent, while the male literacy rate is around 45 percent. First-ever university in the FATA region was FATA University which was set up in 2016 for a population of 5 million. Later on, four campuses of the said university were planned to be set up in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Bajaur, and Khyber.

The situation of education become worst when the miltants started attacking educational institutions. A report of Global political review 2017 observes that, 458 educational institutions were destroyed by militants in Ex FATA.

When we talk of healthcare indicators the situation resembles as if the people of Ex FATA have been living in medieval ages. On one side, the under-5 mortality rate is 33 deaths per 1,000 live births in FATA while on the other end, 52 percent of children are stunted in Ex FATA, which is the highest in the country. As per a report of JICA, (Japan International cooperation agency) 2018, there are 4 DHQs, 14 THQ,s, 9 RHC,s, 174 BHU,s, 11 Dispensaries, and 22 MCH centers, for a population of 5 million. In addition to that, Arab news in its report published in 2018 observes that, one specialist doctor for 30,875 persons, one medical officer or senior medical officer for 8,790 people, one woman medical officer or senior woman medical officer for 89,316 persons and one bed available for 2,281 persons.

On the other side, the status of all social indicators are far from the targets of the SDGs. According to the Pakistan National Human Development Report 2017, Fata had a lower HDI standing: 0.216. More, As per the UNDP report 2016, over two-thirds of people in FATA (73 percent) are under multi_dimensional poverty. Moreover, less than 6% of women participate in the labour force, while, owing to limited skilled employment opportunities, around 50% of labour force in Fata is employed in unskilled jobs. In the twenty-first century, the majority of people of Ex FATA are deprived of internet facilities where the overall broadband penetration is very low, with 75% of the region is without any optic-fiber connectivity.

The 2016 Fata Reforms Committee headed by senator Sartaj Aziz had proposed 3pc of the National Finance Commission award or Rs100bn per annum to this improvised region. Piteously, those recommendations were never implemented. In December 2018 Imran Khan, the then Prime Minister also pledged that the federal government along with the KPk and Punjab would provide 3pc of their share of the federal divisible pool to former Fata. Regrettably, that announcement remained announcement.

As per a report of the FATA Research Center, the authorities have identified 19 different minerals in the region. These include copper, manganese, chromite, iron ore, lead, barite, soapstone, coal, gypsum, limestone, marble, dolomite, feldspar, quartz, silica san, bentonite, marl, emerald and graphite. Copper, marble, manganese and gypsum. For instance, the Bajaur tribal belt has marble, manganese, chromite and emerald, Mohmand region is rich in marble, chromite, silica sand, dolomite, manganese, quartz, feldspar and emeralds, Khyber tribal region had marble, barite, graphite, soapstone, limestone, oil, gas and bastnasite (rare earth mineral), the Orakzai region has coal, iron ore and oil and gas, Kurram belt has soapstone, coal, marble, magnesite, iron ore, lead, oil and gas. While, North Waziristan has huge resources of copper, gold, nickel, manganese, chromite, magnesite, granite (dimension stone) and oil and gas.

Lack of investment, old methods of extraction and bad law and order situation have been huge obstacles in the mining sector. It is said that estimatedly, 70% of marble is wasted during mining by using old mining methods and techniques. 

The region of Ex FATA that was merged into the KPK is one of the worst regions in terms of social indicators. The current announcements of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in North Waziristan is a welcome step but still, a long way to go as the network of such measure ought to be spread through the Ex FATA region. Empowering and investing in youth, exploiting the Hydropower potential of the region, and investing in mines and mineral sectors of the region can not only change the fate of the region but also the country. If such initiatives are taken and if road and rail links, building airports, and ensuring digital connectivity are materialized, not only the reservations of the people will be met, but also the peace would restore.