By Musavir Hameed Barech
The concept of underdeveloped regions refers to geographic areas having a lower level of economic development and living standards—compared to developed areas. Underdeveloped regions have—lower per capita income & industrialization, and reductant infrastructure. Pakistan is at the pinnacle of this conundrum, where one region of the country has been the hub of economic activity while others are left barren due to plethora of reasons.
To address this conundrum, the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives launched the initiative to develop the 20 least developed districts of Pakistan. The project is primarily aimed at uplifting the deprived areas of the country as per their counterparts. In this regard, an amount of 40 billion rupees is allocated for the development of districts because investing in people for a sustainable world is fundamentally important rather than inevitable. The districts include 11 from Balochistan, such as Sherani, Jhal Magsi, Kohlu, Awaran Barkhan, Killa Saifullah, Killa Abdullah, Zhob, Musakhel, Dera Bugti, and Jaffrabad; five from Sindh — Sujawal, Thatta, Tharparkar, Kashmore, – Badin and Torghar, North Waziristan, and Shangla are from KP. Lastly, district of Rajanpur in Punjab is part of this project.
The tentative interventions in the development of these 20 districts will be in the areas of connectivity via roads, access to broadband services and the internet, solarization of off-grid areas, the construction of LPG terminals, the development of the Agri-livestock and mineral value-chain, tunnel framing, dairy farming, fish farming, etc., the creation of common border markets, investments in skill development, and student scholarships.
Ostensibly, this is the first of its kind project in the economic history of Pakistan, where the federal government is undertaking a great deal of interest to comprehensively compensate and address the disparities of the least developed. There are successful models, where the underdeveloped regions have made progress through the implementation of targeted policies and programs. For instance, the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh remained successful in providing microloans to poor rural women, aimed at helping them to start small businesses to lift them out of poverty, which invariably increased economic activities across the country.
On the same lines, Project Pearl was an initiative aimed at improving the living standard of the rural population in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The project involved providing basic infrastructure, encompassing roads, water supply, training programs, and microfinance services.
The Chinese model is quite relevant as far as the least developed areas of Pakistan are concerned. The former invested heavily in infrastructure projects, including roads, bridges, and transportation networks, to improve connectivity and stir economic growth. Beijing implemented policies to encourage investment in the least developed areas, particularly in infrastructural projects, transportation networks, and the manufacturing and processing industries, to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
To espouse the successful uplifting model and trajectory of China, Pakistan can establish financial institutions to provide credit and other financial services to small businesses and farmers in the least developed areas, helping to spur economic growth. Most importantly, the government intends to implement a range of targeted poverty reduction programs, including subsidies, tax breaks, and direct transfers, to support the most vulnerable populations in the least developed areas.
In addition to financial resources, it is also equally important to address the shortcoming in the context of social and cultural factors that hinder the prospect of development. This can include things like promoting gender equality, improving education and healthcare, and addressing corruption and poor governance.
Apart from the aforementioned project, the federal government recently launched a plethora of other projects with the aim of accommodating the youth of deprived regions. The project includes 5000 scholarships for the students of former FATA and Balochistan- and a special quota for the graduates of Balochistan in which 10,000 internships will be granted to unemployed youth of Balochistan.
Overall, the development of underdeveloped regions is a complex and multifaceted challenge. It requires a combination of financial resources, targeted policies, and programs. Priority must be given to exports and local manufacturing. By taking a comprehensive approach, it is possible to make progress toward narrowing the gap between underdeveloped and developed regions and leaving no one behind in the quest for progress.
The Writer is a Research Officer at Balochistan Think Tank Network and can be reach out at @MHBarech