FATA economy back on track as peace returns

By Adeel Saeed

A shop in a new market in North Waziristan is shown in March. Tribe members are rebuilding their livelihoods after troops drove out terrorists in the agency. [Adeel Saeed]

A shop in a new market in North Waziristan is shown in March. Tribe members are rebuilding their livelihoods after troops drove out terrorists in the agency. [Adeel Saeed]

PESHAWAR -- Yar Wali, a 40-year-old man from the Kajuri area of Khyber Agency, welcomes the return of peace to the previously militancy-infested Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

"It is like a bad dream when we recall the hardships faced by tribal people due to the reign of terror unleashed by gun-toting terrorists in our region," he told Pakistan Forward.

Yar Wali was among thousands of tribe members who lost their jobs because of unprecedented lawlessness and the halt of economic activities in FATA.

"Losing an income at a time when you are snarled in unexpected misery is the most difficult phase of life [to endure]," he said. "We had to move to other parts of the country and did menial labour for daily wages just to make ends meet."

Now, however, Yar Wali has returned to his homeland after the reopening of Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency, where he resumed his job as a guard.

"Returning to my homeland and resuming the same job have healed the wounds to some extent [...] and revive my hope for a good life in the future," he said.

Return of business

Bara Bazaar closed in 2009 because of insurgency and military operations against terrorists. Pakistani authorities reopened the bazaar in February 2016 with the objective of reviving FATA's economy.

"There were about 200 small- and large-scale industries in Bara [Bazaar] providing jobs to thousands of people," said Imran Afridi, owner of a plastic-bag factory in Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency.

Before militancy shut down operations, he ran two shifts and had 200 workers, he said.

After the return of peace, he said, he is operating a single shift and waiting to see how it works out.

Out of the approximately 200 industrial units in Bara Bazaar, about half have reopened so far, he said.

"The economic losses from closing the factory were enormous, but we're happy that business resumed," he told Pakistan Forward.

Restoring local economies

"The revival of economic activity in the aftermath of a natural or complex emergency is always one of the most important tasks of the planners," said Nauman Muhammad, deputy director of the FATA Secretariat Directorate of Projects.

In FATA, authorities began rebuilding after successful counter-insurgency campaigns like Operation Zarb-e-Azb, he said.

"Part of this initiative is construction and revival of markets across FATA with the purpose of restoring local economies and providing a livelihood to the insurgency-affected populace," he told Pakistan Forward.

With the help of a $75 million (Rs. 7.9 billion) World Bank loan in 2015, the Pakistani government started implementing plans to support returning families, Nauman said.

"The focus for immediate rehabilitation of militancy-affected tribe members is on education, health, water supply systems, livelihood, markets and electricity restoration," he said.

Improving livelihoods

Improving livelihoods "remains one of the top priorities for rehabilitation in FATA," said Sanaullah Khan, FATA Secretariat natural resources management consultant.

In 2015, the UN-administered Assistance to the Recovery and Development of the Agricultural Economy in FATA Project (funded by several foreign governments), with an initial budget of $16.1 million (Rs. 1.7 billion) began operating, he told Pakistan Forward.

The programme, aimed at providing a livelihood to returning FATA residents, benefitted more than 30,000 households by establishing 134 fruit orchards and rehabilitating 283 acres of land in Bara Tehsil, he said. Workers are rehabilitating another 1,813 acres.

To enhance local farmers' capacity, the programme opened 104 Farmer Field Schools in Khyber, Kurram and South Waziristan agencies and 42 Women Open Schools were established in Khyber and Kurram agencies, Sanaullah said. The Women Open Schools teach women economic skills like gardening and starting small businesses.

In addition, in 2016 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Zafar Iqbal Jhagra approved a four-year FATA Agriculture Action Plan that, once implemented, will directly benefit about 193,000 vulnerable rural families, meaning more than 1.5 million people, said Sanaullah.

"It is the top priority of government to raise the standard of life in FATA," said Jhagra in January, adding that workers have completed seismic surveys of 15 oil and gas blocks in FATA.

The natural reserves are capable of producing 20 trillion cubic feet of gas, besides generating hundreds of thousands of jobs in tribal areas, he said.

Protecting tribes from recruitment

"The damage to [...] the FATA economy due to recent and on-going operations against militants has not only disrupted the livelihoods of many people but increased the vulnerability and desperation of local communities," said Shah Nasir Khan, a former infrastructure and resilience specialist for the FATA Secretariat.

The damage to FATA's market infrastructure has disrupted local supply chains and links with external markets, while the conflict has highly constrained job creation and food security, he told Pakistan Forward.

"In this scenario, revival of economic activity is vital and essential for providing proper livelihood assistance to tribesmen and for protecting them from insurgents who usually use money to attract loyalty," he said.

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