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Zardari announces reforms in tribal areas

world Updated: Aug 14, 2009 11:50 IST

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has announced political and judicial reforms in the northwestern tribal region during a special function on the eve of Pakistan's 63rd Independence Day.

"...I am announcing the permission of political activities in the FATA to bring them into the main political stream," he said while addressing the nation during a special programme organised Thursday night, the official APP news agency reported.

"The government has fulfilled its promise and now people in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) can have an identity as they will participate in political activities and exercise their right to vote," the president said.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Senate Chairman Farooq Naek and National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza were among the dignitaries present at the function.

President's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the package of political reforms for FATA had been approved a day earlier in a meeting that was also attended by the prime minister, the Dawn reported.

Babar said the reforms envisaged extension of the Political Parties Order of 2002 to the tribal areas and changes in the century-old Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) to make it responsive to human rights.

After amendments to the law approved Wednesday, the powers of arbitrary arrest and detention without the right to bail had been curtailed, he said.

"The FCR was a draconian law under which there was no provision of appeal, wakeel or daleel (lawyer or reasoning) against the orders of the executive," the spokesman said.

Under the FCR, Babar said, the tribals were subject to the whims of officials as people were arrested and kept in jail for years without trial and the jail term could be extended indefinitely.

The administration will have no arbitrary power of arrest as checks have been placed on them. The accused shall be brought before the authority concerned within 24 hours of arrest. They will have the right to bail, the spokesperson said.

Zardari expressed satisfaction over the return of millions of people who had fled their homes in Swat and Malakand during the month-long military offensive against the Taliban in the region.

"But a bigger challenge awaits us. In the long run we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life," he said.

"It is a mindset that poses the greatest threat to the security and stability of the country that was founded on this day... Let us therefore resolve to defeat this pernicious mindset that has promoted suicide bombings, beheading innocent people, torturing women and forcibly closing academies of learning," Zardari added.