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ISLAMABAD, Oct 20: President Gen Pervez Musharraf on Saturday approved a draft empowerment package for the Northern Areas, giving enhanced political, administrative and financial powers to a region now administered by the federal government.

The president said he was confident that the package would fulfil a long-standing demand of the people of these areas.

He said the government was committed to developing neglected and under-developed areas to bring them on a par with the rest of the country.

The decision was taken at a meeting, presided over by Gen Pervez Musharraf. It was attended, among others, by the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, and Maj (retd) Tahir Iqbal, the deputy chief executive of the Northern Areas, Ghazanfar Ali.

The package envisages law-making powers for the Northern Areas Legislative Council.

There had been considerable disenchantment among the people of these areas as they had to come down to Islamabad for sorting out petty matters in the ministry of Kashmir affairs and Northern Areas (Kana).

At present the areas are governed by the chief secretary who, as a representative of the federal government, enjoys unbridled powers and the deputy chief executive, as head of the NA Legislative Council, works under the directives of the Kana.

The Legal Framework Order, the sources said, had been on the table of the president for quite some time, but it could not be approved because of some “unexplained reasons”.

The sources said the step had been taken in the light of a surge in political activity in these areas after the return of the PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto. Her party has a vast following in these areas and a large number of workers had travelled to Karachi to welcome her.

The task of the preparation of the political empowerment package, the sources claimed, was assigned to the ministry of law. It took six years in drafting it in consultation with the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.

Under the LFO, the federal government would devolve its powers to district governments to be set up through elections in the six districts of the Northern Areas — Gilgit, Ghanche, Gizer, Skardu, Astore and Diamer.

The president has directed authorities concerned to improve the package to accommodate viewpoints of elected representatives of the Northern Areas Legislative Council.

The NALC, the sources said, had proposed a change in the nomenclature of the council as assembly and suggested some other changes in the basic draft.

The president approved additional funding for Gilgit and Skardu airports and directed the PIA to increase the number of flights to both areas.

He pledged more funds for development projects in these areas with the support of the Asian Development Bank.