Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 17:01 UK

Pakistan to reform tribal areas

Asaif Ali Zardari
The Fata reforms have been hailed as groundbreaking

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has announced a series of reforms to integrate the country's war-torn tribal areas into mainstream Pakistan.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have been administered by the central government in a system inherited from British rule.

The new laws will allow political parties to operate there.

Since 2001 the region has been a haven for militants behind surging violence in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan, in Islamabad, says that the new laws are a landmark moment for Pakistani politics and will allow people living in the Fata to join and vote for mainstream political parties.

'Extremists weakened'

A spokesman for Pakistan's president said the move "empowers the locals and weakens the extremists".

"This breaks the monopoly of clerics to play politics from the pulpit of the mosque to the exclusion of major secular political parties," Farhatullah Babar said.

He was speaking at an overnight ceremony held at President House in Islamabad to celebrate Pakistan's 63rd Independence Day.

Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous agencies have never been politically and administratively integrated into the rest of the country during the years since the British pulled out in 1947.

Troops in Pakistan's Fata
The Fata has become heavily militarised in recent years

Critics say that has created a vacuum which has allowed lawlessness and militancy to thrive.

The four million people who live in Fata have been ruled by government-appointed agents in concert with tribal leaders.

They are subject to tribal laws that allow for detention without trial and communal punishment, among other unpopular measures.

Mr Babar said the new laws would not reduce the powers of the political agent or alter the laws, but they would mean that political parties could campaign there and represent the region in the national parliament after elections in 2013.

Our correspondent says that the hope is that they will also end draconian laws such as the powers of administrators to hold tribesmen in custody for three years without trial and the power of officials to confiscate or destroy property.

President Zardari said that he expected the reforms to be passed into law later this month.

Since partition a lack of political participation has contributed to a strong sense of alienation among the tribes, correspondents say.

Pakistan's current problems with militancy along the tribal belt are largely seen as a direct product of such feelings.

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