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PESHAWAR: Speakers at a seminar on the problems of Federally Administered Tribal Areas said that the tribal region, which has been disowned for long, needs to be integrated with rest of the country through constitutional reforms and its people socio-economically empowered by giving them access to basic facilities.

“Fata has been mishandled, administratively and politically, since the very beginning, but more so in the recent years. It is time to realise the need for change in the policies being followed regarding the economic development, social improvement and political reforms in Fata,” said Prof Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, coordinator of the Cell for Fata Studies at the University of Peshawar during a seminar on “social, economic and political problems of Fata - way forward”, organised with the support of Peshawar Uplift Programme on Wednesday here at UoP.

The conference focuses themes, including governance and administrative status of Fata; migrants and women of Fata; militancy, post-conflict society and tribal code in Fata; education, media and economics in developing Fata’s image; and governance and reforms in Fata. The sessions were chaired by academicians and officials of Fata Secretariat, including Dr Qibla Ayaz, Dr Nasser Ali Khan, Zaheerul Islam, Dr Khadim Hussain and Dr Bushra Hamid.

After shedding light on the impact of American-led Nato forces’ presence in Afghanistan and presence of terrorist networks in tribal areas followed by military operations to clean up these areas of militants, Prof Soherwordi said that the situation in Fata was extremely volatile having dangerous repercussions not only for the area, but also for the country, the region and the entire world. There are hardly any easy solutions to this very complex problem, he said.

Speakers call for constitutional reforms, empowerment of tribal people

Prof Soherwordi said that about Rs10 billion allocated for development in Fata was a very small amount considering the area, its population and the potential for development. He said that Fata was neglected and unfortunately no serious attempt was made by any government to bring the tribal areas into the national mainstream.

Nasir Ali Khan, vice chancellor of the University of Haripur, shared how there used to be a sign-post of “Ilaqa Ghair’ or disowned area on the border between Peshawar and Khyber Agency. However, he mentioned that it was said that it had become a mindset now to look at tribal areas as disowned land and its people as ‘others’. He talked about how important it was to ensure access to basic facilities like education for the Fata people to bring about a real change.

Khalid Ilyas, additional secretary planning and development, said that there was a need for debate on the issues to come up with solutions for problems of Fata. He said that personally he felt that the present constitutional status of Fata was not defined which was hurdle, as some view, to the socio-economic and political development of Fata.

Other speakers mostly academicians observed that Fata had constitutional, administrative and political problems and these issues should be resolved and the area integrated with the rest of the country. The colonial system of administration needs to be changed and the fundamental rights and social services granted to the people.

Prof Nasira Nasreem from Social Work Department, UoP, spoke about the status and role of women in Fata and said that education could help change the current inferior status of tribal women.

Prof Nasreen Ghufran, of IR Department, spoke about how discriminately the internally displaced persons of Fata were treated because the federal government did not own them or had any policy framework to help people affected by disasters. She said that doling out money to IDPs could not guarantee employment or lessen their economic woes.

Dr Ashraf Ali said that there was also a need for revival of cultural institutions in tribal areas. He called for looking at problems of Fata in ideological context and making people aware of the real spirit of Islam so that they shunned religious extremism. The participants said that without defining the constitutional status of tribal areas and integration with settled part of the country, these areas would remain underdeveloped.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2015

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