The sorry state of affairs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) comes as no surprise to anyone. There is currently only one doctor available for over 10,000 patients in FATA, while hundreds of vacant posts of paramedical staff have not been filled for several years. The Senate Standing Committee on States and Frontier Region (Safron) was told on Wednesday that nearly 500 posts for physicians and paramedical staff had been lying vacant for several years now. To fill this widening gap, fraudulent quacks had begun practicing medicine in the area, posing a grave threat to the health of the people of FATA.

Not only is the medical sector greatly suffering, but also the education sector, where one schoolteacher has the burden of teaching nearly 200 students. Most of the schools are lying empty and the built infrastructure is being used as Hujras (Informal sitting rooms) by locals. The dismal state of education and healthcare, along with underutilization of available resources calls for immediate action by the government, to ensure that the people of FATA receive the most basic of amenities. A stricter system to check attendance of ghost employees, whether they are doctors or teachers, need to be enforced, so that the salaries that are issued by the government are accounted for.

To blame the doctors and qualified personnel in entirety is also somewhat unfair considering the prevailing law and order situation in FATA. A semi-autonomous tribal region of north-western Pakistan, it has been governed by its own set of laws. It has also gone though drastic military operations. The lack of clarity on mandate has left FATA a peripheral backwater, and this situation must end.

Hopefully, the discussion to include FATA into the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) will create space for the government and politicians to work on the development of the region. Official inclusion means future votes. Votes require that attention be paid to the people and their rights. For far too long the seven tribal areas of FATA have been excluded from the laws and policies that govern this country causing them to be alienated in many ways. The state should be grateful that the people of FATA want peace and want to be included. These sentiments should be capitalised on, before any mass-scale discontent is created in the war-torn people. We already have too many fronts open. This one needs to be closed, and closed for good.