Provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Balochistan are responsible for socio-development uplift of the people living within their respective jurisdictions through budgetary and non-budgetary measures. But the federal government has to look after the people throughout the country including developed and less-developed regions; and address their felt-needs about essential basic facilities in close cooperation and coordination with the respective provincial government through its own resources.

Balanced regional development is the key to harmonious and sustainable development of Pakistan, which is a federal democratic country.

The concept involves ensuring maximum utilization of development potentials of all areas including less developed special areas. These areas are blessed with immense natural resources which provide a solid base for their prosperity, progress and development. To ensure achieving the cherished objective of sustainable growth, the federal government in all fairness is making all out concerted efforts in a determined manner to fully utilize potentials of these special areas and to bring these less-developed regions at par with other parts of the country at the earliest possible.

Development budget for these areas accordingly is provided by the federal government in its budget as Block Allocation and sector-wise allocations are provided as made as per felt-needs and priorities of the local administration. These funds, so allocated, are afterwards utilized to provide basic essential facilities in various sectors like education, health, drinking water supply, agriculture, energy, irrigation, social welfare and protection and for development of infrastructure network in these areas.

According to the information and data available to this scribe from the official sources, various efforts have been made by the federal government for the somewhat accelerated development of these less-developed regions of the country. Rehabilitation of Temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs) uprooted from their native houses as a result of the armed forces operations against terrorists has remained a major issue and concern for the federal government. Accordingly, a special package is being implemented in FATA for providing relief and rehabilitation of TDPs back in their native areas. A major initiative for accelerated development in these Special Areas is launching and subsequent implementation of the Prime Minister’s Packages for these areas. Additionally and more importantly, FATA reforms are a step forward to address the issue of deprivation and mainstreaming of people of FATA.

During financial year 2016-17, the federal government had made determined efforts in committed manner in close cooperation and coordination with the provincial governments and local administration for achieving desired developmental targets in the Special Areas.

During the last financial year, an amount of Rs 42.36 billion was allocated in the federal budget for less-developed Special Areas. Out of the total allocation, an amount of Rs 0.36 billion was set aside for projects undertaken and implemented by the Ministry of Interior and Narcotics Control whereas hefty amount of Rs 42 billon earmarked as block allocation for initiating and implementing development activities in various sectors in the three Special Areas. Against this block allocation, bit higher amount of Rs 42.43 billion was reported to have been utilized. All three Special Areas fully utilized their allocated block allocation of Gilgit-Baltistan Rs 9.00 billion, FATA Rs 21.00 billion and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Rs 12.00 billion.

According to the information available, funds provided as Block Allocation by the federal government were accordingly utilized in multiple sectors as per felt-needs and priorities of the respective local administration of the Special Areas.

Without going into lengthy details for want of space, it is pertinent to briefly mention here that during the period under review, 125 development projects in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, large number of 403 major and minor development projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and 524 development schemes in FATA were completed.

In FATA, the allocated amount was distributed amongst 16 different sectors spread over 7 Agencies and 6 Frontier Regions. It may also be pointedly mentioned here that FATA administration has also been facing the great humanitarian challenge of reconstruction and rehabilitation of large number of TDPs on priority basis. In the wake of operations Zarb-Azab and Radd-e-Fassad in North and South Waziristan, considerable damage was done to the infrastructure in both areas. Accordingly, an amount of as much as Rs 100 billion was allocated for rehabilitation of the TDPs and for ensuring early delivery of benefits under Vision 205, FATA Administration had declared the year 2016-17 as “Year of Completion”, and as high as 83 per cent funds were allocated for ongoing development schemes, as a result of which as many as 524 schemes were completed as also briefly mentioned above.

Additionally, four Area Development Projects are also being implemented by the Narcotics Control Division on construction of rural roads, irrigation and water supply schemes and provision of agricultural inputs aiming at elimination of poppy cultivation and other illicit trades in the remote areas, through marking these areas accessible to the local administration

As for the outlook of ongoing financial year 2017-18 is concerned, a number of steps have been initiated to ensure maximum decentralization of administrative and financial powers, priority is being accorded to those ongoing schemes and projects which are near completion to ensure that the fruits of these development project become available to the people at the earliest without avoidable unnecessary delays.

The plan as such envisages the development of infrastructure and strengthening and developing capacity of the local institutions, utilization of economic potential in areas of hydropower, minerals, tourism, agriculture, fisheries and forestry to ensure sustainable development, efforts are accordingly being made for acceleration of developmental activities in the Special Areas. A major initiative undertaken by the federal government in launching of the Prime Minister’s Special Package for these areas including special allocation of Rs 12.5 billion for development activities including Rs 2.5 billion for FATA, Rs 6.00 billion each for Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir and this amount is being provided over and above block allocations for the Special Areas in the federal budget for financial year 2017-18.

Hopefully, this little piece will give the much desired and elusive idea to the people at large about ongoing developmental activities in the less-developed regions of FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.