ISLAMABAD President Asif Ali Zardari announced on Thursday political, judicial and administrative reforms for the tribal areas, allowing political activities in Fata, setting up an appellate tribunal, curtailing arbitrary powers of political agents, giving people right to appeal and bail, excluding women and children from the territorial responsibility clause and envisaging audit of accounts by the auditor general.
Addressing a ceremony held in the Presidency to mark the 62nd Independence Day, the president announced the reforms package that had been worked out in consultation with all stakeholders and approved a day earlier in a meeting. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani attended the meeting.
'President Asif Ali Zardari tonight announced major legal and political reforms in the tribal areas to extricate them from a century of bondage and subservience and usher them into the mainstream of national life, describing it as a gift to the nation and the tribal people on the nation's 62nd Independence Day,' said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
He said the reforms envisaged extension of the Political Parties Order of 2002 to the tribal areas and changes in the century-old anachronistic Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) to make it responsive to human rights.
After amendments to the law approved on 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.
The tribesmen were subject to the whims of administration officials as people were arrested and kept in jail for years without trial under the FCR, he said. A person could be sent to jail for three years without trial. The jail term could be extended indefinitely.
Under the territorial responsibility clause, women and children were being jailed.
The administration will have no arbitrary powers 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.
Women and children below 16 years of age shall not be arrested under the Collective Responsibility Clause of the FCR.
The changes lay down a time limit for disposal of cases.
The spokesman said a major initiative was in the field of judicial reform.
The package envisages setting up the Fata Tribunal with powers similar to those of the high courts. The tribunal shall have powers of revision of orders and judgments of the appellate authority.
The spokesman said the funds received and disbursed by political agents would be audited by the Auditor General of Pakistan.
In his address, President Zardari said Pakistan was created through a democratic struggle and it would be made strong and prosperous through democracy.
'As we celebrate we should also pause and reflect whether and where we are going. Unfortunately, over the years as democracy was trampled, an extremist mindset was allowed to grow. I don't want to go into who nurtured the militants and how they were aided. It is all too well known.'
The militants, he said, posed the greatest threat to the country as they were out to destroy the very fabric of society. 'They want to impose their political and ideological agenda on the people of Pakistan through force and coercion. They reject the state, the Constitution, democracy and, indeed, our very way of life,' he said.
He said the government had tried negotiations but the move was rejected. 'Now they are on the run. The nation stands united and all parties and parliament have rejected militants and militancy. Our valiant defence forces stood up against this new and great threat to the country,' he said and thanked parties, parliament, the people and the forces.
The president congratulated the nation and said that millions who had fled their homes in Swat and Malakand had started returning home. '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.'
Praising the people of tribal areas, the president said they were being governed by a hundred-year-old obsolete system of administration that did not allow their creative potential to come into full play.
He said the law had been changed in accordance with the aspirations of the people and democratic principles.