THIS May, Pakistan’s former Fata region will complete its fourth year of merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The merger, brought about through a constitutional amendment, was a watershed moment for the people of the tribal region who had seen nothing but deprivation. Sadly, however, nothing much has been done to bring this poorly governed region on a par with the rest of the country. It has now emerged that the federal government has delayed the release of Rs17.1bn out of a pledged amount of Rs54bn meant for the merged tribal districts. No excuse can be accepted for this delay, knowing that this is the last quarter of the financial year. Funding for the merged districts needs to be prioritised, owing to the region’s recent transition, socioeconomic complexities and security challenges. Unfortunately, neither the federal government nor the provinces, which had promised to shoulder the responsibility, have taken much interest in this regard.
The previous government had made substantial increases in the budgetary allocation for the merged districts, but in the absence of an institutional framework under the National Finance Commission, the promise of a 3pc share in resources made to the people of the tribal region — one that could have introduced a qualitative change in their lives — remains unfulfilled. KP has largely been left to fund infrastructure development in former Fata from its own meagre resources. It is an irony that while the NFC clearly lays down the formula for distribution of resources on the basis of population, area and poverty, among other things, the province, despite having seen its population, area and poverty figures go up post-merger, has not been compensated. The federal government needs to find an institutional mechanism to transfer additional funds to the merged districts but it must also make it part of the NFC. Mainstreaming Fata is a commitment of the federation and any negligence will have huge costs. It is high time the federal government worked with the provinces to resolve this issue.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2022