FATA varsity: Too many cooks spoil the broth

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The effort to build consensus over the establishment of a university in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) was pushed back further in the Parliament on Tuesday when legislators gave their own viewpoint on the issue.
The Parliamentary committee meeting has been called again three days after the body had the same discussion. The Senate Standing committee on Federal Education and Professional Training “specially invited” over a dozen members of the National Assembly to get their viewpoint for obtaining land for the proposed varsity.

It has been over six years when the government announced the setting up of a university in Fata. Since then, only development funds for it are being announced in every budget while the first brick is yet to be laid. Efforts for land acquisition have been ongoing since 2009 and politically-linked individuals have been finalising the construction site but are yet to agree on one.

The issue has been under discussion for more than four parliamentary meetings while its chairperson, Senator Abdul Nabi Bangash, is working to reach an amicable solution before his and many other Senators’ terms expire in March this year. In previous meetings, senators had rejected the finalised site of 266 kanals in Akorwal area of Darra Adam Khel at a cost of Rs140 million and termed it “insufficient.”

Besides, law and order was also termed a barrier to take up the establishment of the first-ever higher education project in Fata. On Tuesday, MNA Jamal termed security reservations unsubstantiated by adding evidence that construction of a project for security forces worth Rs 40 million is underway near the assigned site. “Those who are saying the 266 kanals of land is not enough for a varsity should know that Bacha Khan University and Abdul Wali Khan University were established on 187 acres and 260 acres respectively,” he said curtly.

The federal government has already paid Rs 130 million for the procurement of land while in every Public Sector Development Programme, a separate amount is also announced but the project has not proceeded beyond debates.
MNA Sajid Hussain Turi said “do not make a fuss out of it, just do it.”

Senator Saleh Shah coined another proposal, saying the varsity should be constructed on the other side of Kohat Tunnel so people from other agencies of Fata could also benefit from it. Besides, many other senators from Fata also talked of similar proposals and reservations. To this, Senator Afrasiab Khattak said it was already too late to start the project and changing its venue would further put it on the back burner. “Start construction on the site and later establish campuses in all other agencies,” he suggested. To this, some lawmakers nodded their heads in approval while some whined. Senator Ghalib Khan opposed the idea saying ‘consensus of few people will destroy the purpose of the meeting’.

Senator Ilyas Bilour intervened and told the chairperson that the committee members should take the decision separately and ‘there was no need to further linger on the discussion. Bangash agreed and told the “special invitees” that they would be later informed about the decision of the committee.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2014.