Poverty and unemployment are two of the some basic reasons that have contributed towards the unrest in South Waziristan. Moreover, the scarcity of basic infrastructure and lack of health and education facilities created an ideal environment for nurturing extremism in the area.

Acknowledging this fact, a number of rehabilitation and development projects were taken up by the Pakistan Army, in collaboration with Fata Secretariat, after the establishment of peace in the Mehsud area of South Waziristan. The idea was to improve the people’s socio-economic conditions. One of the core principles kept in mind was to give the maximum benefit to the common man. The Football Stitching Training Centre, for example, was established to create employment opportunities for the residents of South Waziristan.

Having said that, the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector is considered as the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, in terms of its contribution towards employment generation, export development and GDP. However, it has a special value in South Waziristan because it is suffering due to the conflict. Many small enterprises, like rug weaving, bee-hiving, poultry, cattle, fish and duck farming, have been launched by the Pak Army that have helped to raise the locals’ living standards.

Football Stitching is one of the enterprises that is in its infancy in South Waziristan. So far, two stitching centres at Jandola and Chagmalai were established in July 2012 in collaboration with an industrial house in Sialkot. It provided all the necessary support, including raw material and requisite expertise.

In order to introduce a new profession in the area, the locals were encouraged through discussions and documentaries about the benefits attached to the skill. Undoubtedly, the passion of soccer also motivated the young to learn the technique of stitching footballs.

To further this skill, football stitching has been included as a technical course under the patronage of the Waziristan Institute of Technical Education through the Fata Secretariat. A monthly stipend of Rs 2,000, along with free food, is provided to the trainees. On its completion, some of the trainees are sent to Sialkot for advance training to further refine their skills. Consequently, some of them will be employed in the stitching industry, some will become pioneers in the establishment of football stitching SME in South Waziristan and others will become trainers to promote stitching skills among their womenfolk; thus laying the foundation for small business family enterprise in the area.

After successful completion of the football stitching cycle, the future plan encompasses progressive establishment of allied processes, like leather sheet lamination, printing, cutting and bladder manufacturing. This will enhance employment opportunities and change the social and economic profile of the area. The availability of skilled labour and a stable environment will eventually pave the way for the establishment of a football manufacturing industry.

Indeed, small businesses that are the backbone of economic development have always helped solve a variety of problems, including unemployment, poverty and low growth. The SMEs are still the most extensive tools for controlling unemployment; every successful country has focused largely on developing its small business sector to eventually emerge as an industrialised nation.

As a final word, the problem of unemployment and poverty in Fata can be tackled by expanding and modernising the existing small-scale industries, besides establishing new ones and thus improving the  people’s living standards. Indeed, the SMEs will prove to be the main source of poverty reduction in Fata with its spill over impact of peace.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: farooqvirk@gmail.com