Political activities will now be allowed in Pakistan's Federally Administrative Tribal Areas under a slew of reforms unveiled by President Asif Ali Zardari for the Taliban-infested tribal belt in a bid to extricate the lawless region from the grip of militants. Describing the move as a gift to the nation on Pakistan's 63rd Independence Day, Zardari said people in the seven tribal areas can now have an identity as they will be able to participate in political activities and exercise their right to vote.
Political parties were previously banned in FATA where politicians were subject to arrest and the move is aimed at bringing the tribals there to the national mainstream. "From today political activities will be started and be allowed in FATA," Zardari told senior politicians in a speech on Thursday night marking Pakistan's 63rd independence day while announcing the political and judicial reforms for the region which has become a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.
"In the long run we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life," Zardari was quoted as saying during the address. Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the package of reforms for the tribal belt hammered out after consultations with all stake holders was approved in a meeting in the Presidency on Wednesday that was also attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
Babar said the political and judicial reforms envisage changes in the century-old draconian law called Frontier Crimes Regulation to make it responsive to human rights of the people while respecting local customs and traditions. After the amendments in the law, powers of arbitrary arrest and detention without the right to bail had been curtailed, he said.
The changes also envisage setting up of a FATA Tribunal which shall have powers similar to that of the high courts, Babar said. With the extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the tribal areas, all the political parties will be permitted to reach out to the people in the restive region with their message and let the people decide for themselves. Zardari in his address said, "Pakistan's future lies in democracy and every Pakistani has a right and duty to nurture democratic values." He said the law had been changed in accordance with the aspirations of the people and democratic principles while respecting local customs and traditions.
Describing militants as the greatest threat to the country, he said "they are out to destroy the very fabric of our society." "They (militants) want to impose their political and ideological agenda on the people of Pakistan through force and coercion. They reject the state, the Constitution, democracy and indeed our very way of life." "Unfortunately over the years as democracy was trampled, an extremist mindset was allowed to grow. I don't want to go in to who nurtured the militants and how they were aided. It is all too well known," the President said.