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PESHAWAR: Fata has manpower, best quality copper, coal mines, minerals and tourism opportunities but only needs skilled workforce, infrastructure and investment opportunities for its economic development, according to experts. They were taking part in a discussion held at University of Peshawar in collaboration with Cell for Fata Studies here on Tuesday.

Senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Afghanistan and Fata, said that first strength of Fata was its manpower. He said that tribal areas were on the Pak-Afghan border that offered a great trade opportunity. He said that only Ghulam Khan Terminal in North Waziristan could prove to be the income generator of almost half of the agency’s income.

The Karak-Kohat gas and oil reserves extend to FR Bannu and then onwards to North Waziristan. The copper ores in two villages of North Waziristan have 54 metric tonnes of copper, which is even better than that of Sendak in Balochistan. The marble of Ziyarat in Mohmand Agency is rare. There are scenic valleys like Tirah, Shawal and Razmak which can be promoted and developed to bring economic change in the militancy-affected tribal areas.

“Will the government do it? Will it make relevant change in its policies and will peace prevail, if all this happens then one can expect economic development,” said Mr Yusufzai.

Sarwar Mohmand , an industrialist, said on the occasion that government should first ensure peace in Fata and then provide soft loans under the guarantees by the jirga elders to tribal youth.

Saeed Ahmed, a research fellow at Institute of Management Sciences Peshawar, said that militarisation and economic development could not go together. He added that administrative system in tribal areas should be established and people should have basic facilities, education and training to avail employment opportunities in Fata.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador to Afghanistan, said that both sides of the Pak-Afghan border should have infrastructure to attract investment and businesses. He said that instead of merging Fata with the province, there should be more focus on reforms and providing basic facilities to tribal people.

Ibrahim Shinwari and Safiullah, two senior journalists hailing from Fata, said that as long as lasting peace was not ensured and obsolete administrative system was not reformed in Fata, they would not expect any kind of development. Dr Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, coordinator of Cell for Fata Studies, said that Fata had economic potential in shape of business opportunities due to cross-border trade with Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn December 14th, 2016