ISLAMABAD, Aug 13: President Asif Ali Zardari announced on Monday that the system of local governments would be introduced in tribal areas next year. He termed it another step forward in efforts to bring the people of the region into the mainstream of national life.

“I have great pleasure in announcing the introduction of local governments in tribal areas. The coming year will be the year of giving local self-governance in accordance with the wishes of the tribal people, and in accordance with their customs and traditions,” President Zardari said at a special ceremony at Aiwan-i-Sadr to mark the country’s 66th Independence Day.

Interestingly, the ceremony attended by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, federal ministers, the chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, services chiefs, governors of the four provinces, members of parliament and diplomats was held hours before the president’s departure to Saudi Arabia to attend the OIC Summit and was recorded and telecast on Monday midnight.

“We owe it to the people and to the peace and stability of the country and the region to bring these areas into the mainstream of national life,” he said.

“Last year, on the eve of Independence Day, I had signed the regulation for reforms in tribal areas. Under that package, the FCR was replaced with Fata Regulation 2011. The political parties were also allowed to reach out to the people in tribal areas with their message,” he said, adding: “This was our gift to the people on the Independence Day last year. It was a major change in hundred years. It was historic.

The process continues.”

In an apparent reference to the ongoing confrontation between the government and the judiciary, the president called for safeguarding the dignity and honour of the elected parliament and for protecting it “from new forms of assaults”.

He said parliament was the voice of the people and could not be silenced and would never be.

The Independence Day this year, the president said, was being celebrated at a time when a democratically-elected government was about to complete its mandated term in office. “This is a historic milestone. It augurs well for democracy and democratic traditions in the country.

Unfortunately for most part of our independent existence, people were often denied right to rule and the Constitution was repeatedly abrogated.”

It was reassuring that the present parliament had unanimously restored, to a large extent, the ‘democratic’ Constitution of 1973, he said, adding that today the people of Pakistan had reasons to celebrate as they were an independent and a strong nation.

But, he continued, there were dangers and threats also and said militants posed the greatest threat to the country. “A great challenge that we are faced with is defeating the militant mindset,” he said, adding: “For this, we must defend democracy and promote tolerance, discussion and debate.”

Talking to Dawn, president’s spokesman Farhatullah Khan Babar said the introduction of the local government system in tribal areas would be gradual and this provision had been incorporated in the draft regulation which states, “It shall come into force on such date as the governor may by notification determine, and different dates may be notified for different provisions of this regulation.”

Recalling the Fata reforms, Mr Babar said the century-old Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) had been tamed to make it responsive to the human rights of the people and political parties had been allowed to market their programmes and agendas in tribal areas to counter the one-sided campaign of extremist militants who sought to impose their own ideological agenda on the people through use of force.

The Fata secretariat had circulated the copies of the draft of local government regulation among Fata legislators last month to seek their comments.

The draft law envisages the setting up of local municipal bodies in tribal areas to be known as local councils headed by chairmen and deputy chairmen similar to the Nazim-based system introduced by former military dictator Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

The draft law defines the local area as ‘town’ and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor has the authority to delimit the boundaries of wards and towns.

The local councils will also have reserved seats for women and minorities.

Functions of the local councils include sanitation, public health, water supply, drainage, building control, streets, traffic vehicles, sports and culture.

Updated Aug 13, 2012 09:36pm

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