Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday announced a legislative assembly's status to the Northern Areas Council with powers to present and pass the areas' annual budget.
Musharraf made the announcement while addressing the elders and members of the Northern Areas Legislative Council on Tuesday in Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Area (NA).
"The Legislative Council would now become Legislative Assembly with full powers to present, discuss and pass the annual budget for the Northern Areas," he said.
Musharraf said that under the package the current deputy chief executive of the NA would assume the office of the chief executive, empowered with full administrative and financial authority.
He said this would usher in a new era of maximum autonomy for the people of the Northern Areas, fulfilling their longstanding demand.
Under the new package, he said, the minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas, who currently holds the charge of chief executive, will become the chairman of the NA.
During the long deliberation to hammer out the new autonomy package, almost all of the 52 proposals presented by the chief executive and members of the Legislative Council have been approved, he said.
Underlining the need for fast track socio-economic uplift of the Northern Areas, Musharraf said, budgetary allocations for the areas have been raised from 800 million rupees ($13.33 million) in 1999 to 7.5 billion rupees now.
In future, he said, the federal finance ministry would make a single entry budgetary allocations for the NA, which would be utilized by the Northern Areas authorities themselves.
Musharraf said that the Legislative Assembly would be empowered to move "No Confidence Motion" against the chief executive, speaker and the deputy speaker of the assembly. These top public office holders will also have the option to tender resignations.
Under the new autonomy package, a boundary commission will be constituted to sort out demarcation of boundaries between Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Northern Areas in an amicable manner.
Musharraf said that the Karakoram Highway up to the Khunjrab Pass would be widened and upgraded and even the central Asian republics would be connected through a new road network, opening new economic opportunities for the people of the area.