The economics of mainstreaming Fata

Updated June 04, 2018


THE Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) are no more. With effect from May 31, when President Mamnoon Husain formally signed the 31st Constitutional Amendment passed by the parliament, they became part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The mainstreaming (of tribal areas) is legally complete. The seven (tribal) agencies no longer exist; these have become districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and may be called western districts,” former Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Sartaj Aziz told Dawn on his last day in office. He was head of the special committee on Fata reforms.

As a result, political agents of the erstwhile tribal agencies have been designated as deputy commissioners and assistant political agents as assistant commissioners like elsewhere in the country.

The National Economic Council in its meeting last month has already decided to have a 10-year development plan worth Rs1 trillion for the new districts

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Peshawar High Court (PHC) has already been extended to the tribal region. The PHC has started setting up district and sessions courts in each of the new districts, and the process is expected to be completed two to four months.

The application of Fata-Interim Regulations under the Fata Reforms Bill will temporarily continue to operate, maybe up to six months, in place of the centuries old Frontier Crimes Regulations.

The National Economic Council in its meeting last month already decided to have a 10-year development plan worth Rs1 trillion for the new districts.

The provinces were originally opposed to an allocation of three per cent of gross proceeds of the federal divisible pool in view of a simultaneous demand for up to seven per cent allocations for security, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. They, however, agreed to be part of a Fund for tribal development with contributions in line with their National Finance Commission shares.

The former deputy chairman said the 10-year plan would spread over three phases — first two phases of three year each, followed by a four-year final phase. However, it has been committed that Rs200bn would be spent in the first year.

Senator Aziz said the governor of KP has submitted a 10-year development plan, of which 30pc (Rs300bn) of the funds will be spent through local bodies. The elections for local bodies will be held in October, he explained.

On behalf of the federal government, former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has committed a 43pc (Rs430bn) share in 10 years. This would be a remarkable, almost four times higher, increase over the current Rs10bn going annually into the tribal areas with loose oversight in the absence of strong audits and checks and balances.

With provincial governments on board, 50pc of the funds for the first three years, have already been pledged to kick-start development.

“There is a national consensus on the plan. There was no opposition for funding but over the phases and percentages,” Mr Aziz said, adding the provinces would contribute to the fund.

This is also evident from the fact that despite all the prevailing political tension, the entire political leadership showed the highest standards of maturity and was on one page regarding the Fata reforms. They ensured the presence of their parliamentary numbers to amend the Constitution, he said.

Of the remaining Rs700bn, about Rs100bn would be spent on Urban Development to make its key urban centres liveable for the educated youth with job and business opportunities. It was noted during consultations that federally funded PhDs from the area chose to stay in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad because of poor living standards and obviously low job opportunities back home.

Therefore, about 14-15 places have been identified — at least one in each district — for development hubs in the form of Defence Housing Societies (DHS) and satellite towns.

These will have modern schools, hospitals and real-estate enterprises to enable fresh wealth and job creation and help retain educated minds, explained the veteran parliamentarian and seasoned development economist. The DHS include seven district headquarters and 5-6 other prominent central places.

Another Rs120bn have been proposed for water sector development and constructions of small dams, besides another Rs20bn for small irrigation schemes, putting the total for water sector and agriculture at Rs140bn. This is targeted to create quick job opportunities.

The energy sector will get Rs50bn for schemes like solar and wind projects. Coupled with another Rs50bn for industrial development based on indigenous strengths and specialties, the residential, industrial and business hubs are anticipated to create a thriving environment for business opportunities and to act as buffer against external and internal grounds for terrorism.

Various projects under these allocations were already in the development phase with the assistance of the planning commission, the higher education commission, Oil and Gas Development Company and Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation — the later two in oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.

Mr Aziz said these programmes would be developed for each district (former tribal agency) and added that the decision had been taken by the entire national political leadership, except two parties (JUI-F and PkMAP) through marathon sessions put together by former PM Abbasi.

With national political consensus, it is now the responsibility of the KP government to ensure that the funds allocated for development of its western districts are not spent anywhere else. Under this decision and since the federal planning commission will release funds for the Rs1tr development plan, it would ensure through institutional requirements that the KP government stays on course.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 4th, 2018