Innovative development strategy needed for tribal areas

It is important to explore the development needs of the inhabitants of Fata

Dr Raza Khan April 04, 2019
The writer is a political, economy and security analyst and a governance and public policy practitioner. He can be contacted at

Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that the federal government will spend Rs1,000 billion over a period of 10 years on the development of the tribal areas that have now been merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province. However, while this amount is not enough to meet the colossal development challenges in the merged tribal districts, what is also needed is a comprehensive research-based development plan to bring about a real positive change in erstwhile FATA.

Insofar as the developmental challenges to the government in the merged tribal districts are concerned, the most important task is to develop the entire state apparatus and social service institutions in the areas from the scratch. Even though the war on terror and the terrorist activities of groups like the TTP have inflicted great losses on the lives and properties of the people of tribal areas, the loss to public infrastructure has not been that huge as no proper infrastructure was in place in the region even before the terror war had been imposed on us. After more than a decade of military operations against insurgents and terrorists in the tribal districts, the post-conflict situation is quite conducive for development. In other words, the field is entirely open for developmental initiatives. However, it would require huge amount of funds on sustainable basis to see real multidimensional development taking place in erstwhile FATA. As policy-makers and strategists go about developing the merged tribal districts, several important points must be kept in mind. The authorities must understand that the tribal region is comprised of a big area with huge population; therefore, as mentioned above, Rs1,000 billion would not suffice for any meaningful development. The funds required for proper development are too much for a cash-strapped country like Pakistan. So the only source of funding could be international donor institutions and foreign countries.

However, the authorities have to come up with viable, vibrant and rational projects to sell to the international donors in order to secure their financial support. Most of the uplift projects must concentrate on improving the economic situation in the region, financial position of its inhabitants, provision of employment, alleviation of poverty, dissemination of knowledge, imparting of education, and initiatives focusing on attitude and behaviour change. For this, the overall security situation in the merged tribal districts must be further improved. The situation in the post-conflict region is such that it could once again be subjected to large-scale conflicts as the seeds of conflicts are still very much there despite the state’s successful efforts to eliminate terrorism and extremism from the region. In other words, the region-specific drivers of violence which include illiteracy, ignorance, religious orthodoxy, poverty, unemployment and above all political vacuum are still very much extant. So, as pointed out above, the development strategy must address these issues for a meaningful positive change in the region to happen.

It is also important to understand that development is a holistic concept that features personal (psychological and behavioural), social, economic, political and infrastructure uplift. A development strategy for the merged tribal districts must keep all the above-mentioned facets in view, in a balanced way. It is important to explore the development needs of the inhabitants of FATA; and in the same regard, PM Khan has announced that the consultative process had begun.

Local people could give the authorities a very significant input wroth-incorporating in the overall development strategy. But one point that must be kept in mind by strategists is that tribal people, who are not that educated, would generally demand infrastructure development, employment, and provision of funds to initiate or expand businesses. However, only concentrating on these demands and believing that they would alone bring about a huge change would not be the right approach.

While coming up with the economic strand of the development strategy, authorities must understand that extensive industrialisation is not possible in the region due to its locational disadvantage. Since these areas are situated far away from seaports, any industries there are unlikely to be competitive. Therefore, development strategists must focus on agriculture and the services sector to bring about a meaningful change in the region. Insofar as the services sector is concerned, establishment of cities in the merged districts could be instrumental because main services — including transportation, telecommunication, hoteling, media and most importantly education — could be developed in the eco-system of the cities.

The uplift of the female gender is the key to the overall development of the merged tribal districts. Women have always been excessively marginalised in the tribal regions in every respect and they have had no role in the decision-making, including regarding their own lives and destinies. Sans opportunities to have personal development, they could not play their critical role in the overall development of the region.

Last but not the least, the political and administrative vacuum has been the most chronic of the problems in the tribal region. In this situation, governance — let alone good governance — could not be thought of. Therefore, for the overall development of the region, an administrative system based on the principles of good governance — like transparency, accountability, rule of law, participation of all and equality — has to be put in place. For this, what’s needed is an out-of-the-box thinking — something that is terribly lacking in our bureaucratic set-up which is involved in devising developmental strategy for the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2019.

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