PESHAWAR: Speakers in a seminar have urged the government to hold elections to the provincial assembly seats in the erstwhile FATA at the earliest. This will put an end to the decade’s long sense of frustration and deprivation developed over the years among the people of FATA. This was the crux of the roundtable conference organized by the Department of Governance, Politics and Public Policy (GPP) at Abasyn University to deliberate upon “Post Integration Policy And Governance Strategies In Erstwhile Fata: Opportunities & Issues.”

The conference attracted a select group of parliamentarians, academia, representatives of youth and women forums, business community and media beside a large number of civil society members.

The conference deliberated upon a wide range of issues regarding the governance and policy challenges and issues faced by the government and residents of former FATA as well as of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in the process of integration. The participants agreed that although FATA have been merged in the KP but there was not a lot of homework on the part of relevant government departments due to which multifarious issues and challenges were being faced in the process of integration.

Speaking on the occasion newly elected MNA from Khyber Agency, Iqbal Afridi, said his government was determined to accelerate the merger process and start developmental activities in the war-torn region and bring it at par with the rest parts of the country. The people had voted them to power and they would do their best to deliver on what they had committed, he added.

President Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mr. Zahid Shinwari said the mineral rich FATA region had enough potential to create huge business and employment opportunities and pull the war-plagued area out of the current financial crises if proper arrangements were made for the exploitation and exploration of its mineral resources. He said the bilateral trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan via Borki-Kharlachi and Ghulam Khan border could be increased up to eight billion dollars from the current $ 500 million dollars only. Pointing out the priority areas of intervention Shniwari said agriculture was the backbone of the area’s economy however there was a need for putting in place communication and road networks.

A political analyst Dr. Ashraf Ali urged the civil society for keeping a more vigilant eye on the implementation mechanism. He asked the student and women forums, legal fraternity and other civil society organization to redefine their objectives, reshape their strategies and take up a broader role as a watchdog to monitor the implementation mechanism in order to identify gaps, loopholes and suggest practical recommendations on how to bridge those gaps.

Talking at this occasion Dr. Raza Khan, Honorary Head of Department of Governance, Politics and Public Policy, said although the merger of FATA with the KP has been legally finalized but integrating the entire FATA with the KP has raised and would continue to raise a lot of opportunities as well as numerous challenges. In order to take advantage of the opportunities by the forelock and maximally utilize them for the development of the region and welfare of its residents there was a need to have comprehensive policy plans and governance strategies for various sectors ranging from manufacturing, agriculture, livelihoods, tourism, health, education and transportation among others. He said that the process of integration must be approached by various stakeholders both strategically and tactically and there must be long, medium and short term plans to mange this huge change in the lives of millions of residents of KP and FATA.

Professor Dr. Ghayur Ahmad said though the tribal areas have been merged into KP but the huge task of its implementation was yet ahead.

Taking the discussion further President FATA Lawyer’s Froum Rahim Shah Afridi said the people with their rising expectations were looking forward to the PTI-led government and its pledges for a change. He asked the government to come up with a clear roadmap on merger mechanism so that the process is completed at its earliest.

Senior journalist Iftikhar Firdous asked the government to devise a comprehensive strategy for settling land and water disputes that has been causing feudal and intra tribal enmities since long. The billion rupees 10 years socio-economic plan required huge financial commitments, where would the required money come from, the participants questioned? Can the government with its meager resources in hand manage to spare the required amount for the job? They asked the government to mobilize the provincial government for holding the NFC award at the earliest so that developmental activities could be started in erstwhile FATA at the earliest.

Speaking to the audience an expert on FATA, Dr. Rahmanullah, said that the process of integration of FATA into KP would not only give rise to various issues and challenges but had already triggered a lot of governance and policy issues. However, he said this is very much normal as across the world issues emerge as a result of such a huge political and social change. He said the main question was how to address these issues and challenges and in this regard the roundtable conference on the topic by the Department of Governance, Politics & Public Policy was much appreciated.

Farooq Malik, Coordinator of the Department of Politics, Governance and Public Policy, Abasyn University, said that the purpose of the conference was to debate and discuss the most viable, workable, realistic policies and strategies of governance in the erstwhile FATA after their merger with the KP.

He said the basic idea behind the establishment of the Department of Governance, Politics & Public Policy, Abasyn University, was to discuss, debate, teach and research numerous policy and governance issues of the KP in general and Pakistan in particular ranging from economy to natural resource management to conflict and terrorism and extremism.

Mr. Malik said that the Department of Governance, Politics and Public Policy would continue to debate and research all policy and governance issues of the KP and Pakistan and would come up with policy feed for various government and private sector departments as well as international donors and stakeholders. He said the documented recommendations of the conference for various sectors would be forwarded to the relevant government departments, civil society and development organizations for incorporation into policies, governance strategies and interventions. He thanked the participants for their enthusiastic and informed debate.