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President Asif Ali Zardari being presented a traditional turban by a tribal elder during grand tribal jirga of notables from FATA at Aiwan-e-Sadr. — [Photo by APPISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari has urged people of tribal areas to enthusiastically participate in the general elections and elect representatives who can bring about a positive change in their lives.

Addressing a grand jirga of elders from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) at the President House here on Monday, he said the country was undergoing a democratic transition for the first time in its history.

He said security concerns and the fragile law and order situation should not obstruct the electoral process. He said he himself had suffered and rendered sacrifices in the war against militancy and mentioned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

President Zardari said a nation itself should change its circumstances and should not expect anyone else to do it for them.

“You have skilled manpower, highly qualified engineers, doctors and other professionals who can play an active role in bringing about a socio-economic change in their respective areas.”

The president said that after an initial resistance in some parts of Fata, the Benazir Income Support Programme had now started receiving attention. A number of features might be added to the programme which could cater to health, education and stipends for tribal people through its social safety net, he added.

The president said the PPP-led government from day one had been doing a lot to develop the area and bring it on a par with other parts of the country.

He said the appointment of the KP governor from Fata was a step in the right direction and it would go a long way in bringing the area to the national mainstream and acknowledge it as an important part of the country and to recognise sacrifices of its people.

The president called the valiant and courageous people of Fata “defenders of the frontiers”. He acknowledged their sacrifices and struggle along with the armed forces to make Pakistan a safe place to live.

He said the PPP-led government had taken a number of measures over the past five years for uplift of tribal people and had opened for the first time an opportunity for reforms in Fata which had been denied for over a century.

Besides getting a new judicial system, he said people of tribal areas had been allowed for the first time to freely participate in political activities.

Mr Zardari said the new judicial system in Fata ensured due process and right to appeal and bail. It was, he added, a leap forward for the people of Fata towards freedom, liberty, human rights and political participation.

He said that those considering reforms in Fata as too little too late should realise that the door had finally opened and all should work together to open up further the window of opportunity.

But he stressed that the drive for change in Fata must come from within because it could not be imposed from outside. He said changes and reforms must respect tribal customs and traditions without which any reforms would fail.The president stressed the need for devising a monitoring mechanism to oversee implementation of reforms on the ground. He said it was important that reforms were fully implemented, and it must be ensured that people actually benefited from them.

He assured that along with the Gomal Zam project, Bara dam would also be constructed to meet water and energy needs of the area.

He stressed the need for stepping up efforts for setting up the Fata Information Technology University and Fata Medical College.

He mentioned a new model for development wherein tribal people would be partners in projects and industries that would be set up under the concept of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in tribal areas.

Mr Zardari said the problems being faced by internally displaced persons in Fata would be seriously addressed.

He assured construction of schools, colleges and academic institutions in the tribal areas. He said efforts were being made for enhanced access of Pakistani goods to international market which would promote industrial development and create jobs for the youth.

Senate Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Governor Shaukatullah, federal ministers, elders from different agencies of Fata, ACS Fata Dr Tashfeen Khan and senior officials of the Fata secretariat attended the jirga.—APP