PESHAWAR -- Tribal areas once afflicted by extremism and militancy are now expecting a new phase of prosperity as both private and public sector initiatives are proceeding in the newly merged areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The initiatives aim to uplift war-ravaged areas and enable opportunities for growth and progress, officials say.
Zarghun Shah, a deputy director at the Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) in KP, said the organisation is working to "train youth in contemporary fields of technical education and enable them to earn a respectable livelihood".
TEVTA is focusing on youth of the merged tribal districts, where residents are still facing challenges against the backdrop of militancy and insurgency, he said November 10.
"Youth of these areas need a proper platform that can procure chances of growth and channel their energies in a most appropriate way."
To facilitate tribal youth, TEVTA is constructing four government polytechnic institutes located in the tribal areas of Dara Adamkhel and Kalaya, with one female and male polytechnic institute each in Miranshah, according to Shah.
"These institutes, which are scheduled to be completed next June, will open new vistas of development for youth residing in these areas," he said.
"After the merger [of KP and the tribal areas in 2018], tribal youth are in a better position to utilise their innate capabilities for themselves and for their areas," he said. "TEVTA institutes and vocational centres are educating 35,000 youth, including students from tribal areas, in various disciplines."
Each year, TEVTA covers the education and lodging expenses of 10 tribal youth who are admitted to the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology Swabi, he said.
"The merger has increased the possibility for growth in the tribal areas that were on the forefront of the war against militancy," Shah said.
Development in tribal areas
"The KP government has embarked on a result-oriented plan to develop the tribal belt... prioritising the resolution of the people's problems and addressing their sense of deprivation," said KP Information Minister Kamran Khan Bangash.
"Areas that were ravaged by militancy and uncertainty over the past decades have started enjoying the fruits of policies undertaken by Pakistani authorities," he said.
"Development of the merged districts and inclusion of tribes in the national mainstream are among the topmost priorities of the government," he said. "To achieve the goal, the government has initiated various development projects with hefty allocations."
Since the merger, the government has diverted a large budget to Accelerated Implementation Programme (AIP) projects relating to education, infrastructure development, Rescue 1122 and local judicial systems, among other areas, according to Bangash.
"The change is imminent, and tribes will soon start enjoying the outcomes of the developmental process started after the merger," he said.
Access to education long has been considered the only way to lead a nation towards prominence, global respect and a better future, he said.
"The KP government has given unprecedented focus to the education sector after realising its significance for the development of society," he said.
The provincial government has spent Rs. 24 billion ($150 million) on various projects in the merged tribal districts over the past year, the Express Tribune reported in September.
As part of AIP projects, the KP government spent Rs. 12 billion ($75 million) on reconstruction, Rs. 6.6 billion ($41 million) on restoration of businesses affected by conflicts in merged areas, Rs. 1.5 billion ($9.4 million) for Rescue 1122 services at the district level, and Rs. 2.9 billion ($18 million) on various primary and secondary level school projects in the tribal districts.
The mindset of Pakistanis cannot change until they receive opportunities to change and develop themselves, said Malik Moeen Hussain, a tribal elder from Kurram District.
"Development that [leads to] better future prospects gives hope to residents, minimising the chances of being led astray," he said. "Witnessing development in their areas that were once considered safe havens for insurgents is a good omen that will pave the way for the emancipation of residents of the merged tribal areas."
"Tribe members who lacked options in a situation of uncertainty before the merger are now in a better position to express their concerns to higher authorities through elected representatives," he said.
The extension of the judicial system, police force, district administration and other government departments to the merged districts was among the long standing demands of tribe members that authorities have met, Hussain said.
"The extensive initiatives of the KP government in tribal areas will produce innumerable effects on all of society living in these areas," he said.
"All the promises must be fulfilled for the sake of tribal [residents] who braved and survived uncertainty during the reign of extremism," he added.