Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari unveiled political reforms in the country's tribal belt Friday in a bid to extricate the lawless region from the grip of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Pakistan's seven federally administered tribal areas (FATA) have become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan in late 2001.
“From today political activities will be started and be allowed in FATA,” Zardari told senior politicians in a speech marking the 62nd independence day since Pakistan was created out of the Indian sub-continent.
Political activities were previously banned in FATA, where politicians were subject to arrest. Zardari's announcement was seen as an effort to draw the lawless region closer into national politics.
"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 by state news agency APP during his overnight address.
Although his civilian government is weak, Zardari is a key ally in US President Barack Obama's strategy to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where 100,000 US and NATO troops are deployed.
Pakistan's fight against militants was given a boost last week by the purported death of public enemy number one, Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, in a US missile attack on his South Waziristan tribal stronghold.