Friday, 8 September 2017

Are we deliberately excluding FATA?

by Muhammad Saleem, who tweets at @memzarma

[the article originally published at Pakistan Today on August 29, 2017 and is reproduce here with permission]

If not, let’s not encourage the notion
Availability of reliable and timely data is the prerequisite for any solid research and policy interventions by different tiers of governments. Last week, I attend a conference on ‘Marginalization and Social Exclusion in the Perspective of Market Economy” organized by Department of Economics, University of Peshawar with collaboration from Quaid-e-Azam University and Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. Around 30 research papers were presented in the conference by researchers in the field of economics from across Pakistan. A majority of these research papers used rich socio-economic datasets of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). The findings of these papers offered some concrete policy recommendations for the policy makers. However, in an unfortunate reflection of government data, the scope of all these research papers were limited to the four provinces of Pakistan and excluded FATA, GB & AJK from the analysis due to unavailability of data on these regions. The irony is that a conference on marginalization and exclusion cannot study the regions because, of the fact, that federal data collecting organization do not collect socio-economic data on these regions.
PBS is the single most important organization at the federal level which conduct nation-wide representative surveys on different socio-economic indicators on yearly basis. While some surveys do include GB and AJK, it completely ignores FATA as a region. With its head office in Islamabad, PBS has 18 Regional and 16 Field Offices across Pakistan but there is not a single office in FATA. With lesser population then that of FATA, PBS has one regional office in AJK and one field office in GB. FATA is probably the only region in the world where Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were not monitored and, if the neglect continues, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) too will be not monitored in FATA.
Almost all the socio-economic surveys conducted by PBS clearly states that the sample designs of these surveys excludes the whole FATA region. As discussed earlier, this exclusion not only limits serious research on the region but also excludes FATA from important policy documents. Everything from the Economic Survey of Pakistan, Annual and Quarterly Reports of State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s Vision 2025, Annual Plans of Planning Commission of Pakistan, CPEC Short and Long Term Plans, Public Sector Development Programs, Poverty calculations and many other government policy documents mention only the four provinces and exclude FATA and other regions of special status. FATA gets a mention only when the reference is made to War on Terror or security concerns in the country.
FATA is also excluded from important national economic and social policy forums such as National Economic Council (NEC), Council of Common Interest (CCI), National Finance Commission (NFC) Awards and other such policy forums.
This marginalization is not driven by economics or a lack of interest by researchers, instead analysts and legal experts are in consensus that these FATA exclusions stems from article 246 and 247 of the constitution. This marginalization and exclusion of FATA has serious consequences on the wellbeing of the people living in FATA. Pick any socio-economic indicator on FATA and a comparison with the national average will reveal that FATA lags behind the rest of Pakistan by a big margin. For example, the first ever official national multidimensional poverty index (MPI) developed by UNDP, revealed that poverty incidence in FATA is 73.7% as compared to national average of 38.8% during 2014-15.  It should be noted here that the MPI figures for FATA were derived from a data source, which is less rigorous than the one conducted, by PBS.
Governing FATA through an opaque and unaccountable system like the FCR has serious repercussions on service delivery. The political marginalization of FATA in Pakistan’s constitution led to its economic and social exclusion from different national policy forums, policy documents and data collections. This marginalization is not because of the people of FATA but in spite of their desire. In a recent statement released by Ministry of SAFRON, around 31,000 messages were received by the ministry from people of FATA in support of FATA’s mainstreaming. Similarly, the recently held 6th population census peacefully concluded in FATA by PBS with not a single incidence of obstruction in FATA. There were huge rallies from Lawyers, students, and political parties in FATA demanding constitutional reforms in FATA to mainstream the region.
Pakistan’s constitution may have codified marginalizing FATA and to some extent AJK and GB but despite this, its writers aspired for a better world in the future. This is best reflected in Article 37a ‘Principles of Policy’, which states “..State shall promote the educational & economic interests of backward classes or areas”. If we want to create a more inclusive Pakistan, reflecting those principles, mainstreaming FATA should be a top priority, and a small step in that direction would be to immediately include FATA in PBS surveys.

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