FATA counters militancy with new university

By Adeel Saeed

Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif meets with the FATA Reforms Committee in Islamabad on August 23. [Courtesy of Pakistan Press Information Department]

Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif meets with the FATA Reforms Committee in Islamabad on August 23. [Courtesy of Pakistan Press Information Department]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has been the region most affected by militancy in part due to illiteracy and lack of education among the tribal people.

After the successful military operation against militants, authorities hope to prevent the scourge from returning by establishing an institute for higher education.

"The objective of establishing FATA University is to guarantee sustainable peace in the region through triggering wave of education and literacy," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Zafar Iqbal Jhagra said during his visit to Dara Adamkhel, the site of the new university, on July 13.

"The menace of terrorism can only be obliterated by spreading education and knowledge, and an educated FATA is the guarantee of sustainable peace in the tribal belt," he said.

The KP governor, who has administrative authority of FATA, said prosperity, peace and development are achieved through quality education.

"Education and knowledge were the keys to the socio-economic development of the country," he said, adding that there is an "education emergency" in the tribal areas.

FATA University admissions

The deadline to apply for admission to FATA University is September 23 and classes will begin in October, according to Anwar Ahmad Khawaja, a consultant for FATA University.

"We have issued an advertisement for admission in four disciplines including political science, sociology, mathematics and management science," he told Pakistan Forward.

The university is located in the Dara Adamkhel area of Frontier Region Kohat and initially classes will be held in Government Degree College Dara Adamkhel, he said.

FATA University will sit on 466 kanals (58 acres), out of which 266 kanals (33 acres) have been purchased at a cost of Rs. 133m (US $133,000), while the remaining 200 kanals will be purchased soon, Anwar Ahmad said.

For the first class, the university will offer admissions to 40 students, both male and female, in each discipline, he said. With the passage of time, more departments will be established and campuses will be set up in each agency of FATA.

The government appointed Tahir Shah, a renowned educationist and geoscientist, to serve as vice chancellor of the university, while the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan is appointing faculty and administrative staff, he said.

"The total cost of the FATA University project is estimated as Rs. 4.7 billion (US $40.7m), and presently the government has made an allocation of Rs. 250m (US $2.5m) to start its first phase," said Iqbal Ahmad, an official in the FATA Secretariat Planning and Development Department.

"The government is taking keen interest in establishment of FATA University as the people of tribal belt have witnessed a lot of mayhem due to presence of terrorists in the region," he told Pakistan Forward.

The literacy rate in FATA is 33.3%, according to FATA Secretariat statistics, far lower than the national average of 58% estimated in 2013-14, he said.

A beacon of light

"FATA University is first ever university in the tribal region and will serve as beacon of light for ushering in a new era of development, literacy and prosperity," Vice Chancellor Tahir Shah told Pakistan Forward.

"We are starting classes with around 200 students, but the university's full capacity will be about 10,000 after construction is completed on the buildings and campuses in various agencies," he said.

Tahir expressed hope that construction of FATA University will be completed in four to five years.

Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif will formally inaugurate the first phase of FATA University, "which shows the government's keen interest in establishing this educational facility," Tahir said.

The second phase of the university will include the establishment of medical and engineering colleges, he added.

"FATA University will play a catalyst role in bringing development and prosperity to the region which has witnessed a lot of destruction and chaos due to militancy and extremism," said Professor Qibla Ayaz, former vice chancellor Peshawar University.

Ayaz said the new university has great potential to change the scenario of FATA, which has been plagued as a hideout for militants.

Students of the tribal belt have suffered a lot due to militancy and displacement caused by the military operation against the terrorism, and the government should facilitate those who seek higher education by offering scholarships, he said.

"FATA University can provide a good opportunity for tribal students to ... play a role in the development of the country and their region, which has witnessed unexplainable devastation and destruction because of militancy and terrorism," he told Pakistan Forward.

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