PESHAWAR -- Revitalising the economy of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), much of which was devastated by terrorism and militancy, will be the focus of a gathering of analysts who will begin meeting in October.
The Economic Co-operation and Development Forum (ECDF), created by Pakistani authorities on August 29, will be made up of 40 to 50 specialists on economic development and private sector investment. They will be tasked with formulating policies for the revival of commerce and trade in the region while also spurring income generation opportunities for local residents.
The tribal districts of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which merged with KP in 2018, have faced massive economic losses due to destruction caused by militants and the ensuing migration of its denizens.
Now that troops have restored peace in the area and temporary displaced persons have returned to the region, the forum will concentrate on approaches to rehabilitating the area's economy to ensure lasting peace and stability.
"The project is aimed at providing sustainable livelihood and income opportunities for long-term economic growth that will contribute to the resilience and economic revitalisation of the newly merged districts of KP," said Javed Iqbal Khattak, the general manager of SMEDA (Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority).
The project is part of a US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded FATA Economic Revitalisation Programme and will be jointly implemented by the United Nations Development Programme and SMEDA, according to Khattak.
Boost to entrepreneurs
The introductory meeting of the forum, which will also include representatives from the government, micro-finance institutions and think tanks, will be held in October and will meet on a quarterly basis through July 2020. It will be chaired by KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan.
"The overall objective of the forum is to facilitate partnerships between different institutions and to reflect on ways to enhance the investment of private sector companies in the tribal districts of KP," Khattak added.
Under the project, technical assistance will go to 4,350 entrepreneurs in three districts including Khyber, South Waziristan and North Waziristan to help them evaluate business development plans. These entrepreneurs will receive business support through in-kind grants, he added.
The grants will help returnees re-establish their businesses, expand existing ones or create new enterprises, Khattak said, adding that officials have already processed grant applications for 700 entrepreneurs and forwarded them for issuance. The remainder are in process.
"The biggest problem in the tribal regions is unemployment, and in order to maintain peace, economic revitalisation is a must for job creation," said Naseer Wazir, a member of the KP Assembly from South Waziristan District.
The tribal regions have many opportunities to generate economic activity and provide jobs, Wazir said in an interview.
The Angoor Adda border post in South Waziristan is very suitable for Pak-Afghan transit trade because of its proximity to Kabul and to Central Asian countries, he said. Therefore, transit trade can be started from this post to promote commerce and trade in the region, Wazir said.
Following successful military operations, peace has returned to the region and efforts to revive the economy will bear fruit, he added.
'A step in the right direction'
Shakireen Shakir, president of the Tribal Areas Chamber of Commerce and Industry, commended the decision to establish the forum.
In North Waziristan District, formerly a haven for terrorists, the area economy was destroyed following the obliteration of shops and business centres.
The revival of economic activity in the terrorism-ravaged tribal districts is in dire need of official support such as financial grants for the start-up of businesses, Shakir said.
Though peace has returned and troops have expelled terrorists, the regional economy remains derailed and the public and private sectors will have to play a large role in restoring it, he said.
The establishment of the forum is a step in the right direction, Shakir added.
"Economic recovery will automatically solve 90% of the problems of the merged areas," said Zahidullah Shinwari, former president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a businessman from the tribal area.
Without an economic revival, peace and development cannot be maintained in the tribal regions, he said.
He lauded the formation of the forum and said policies proposed by the body will prove helpful in the recovery and rehabilitation of the region.