Pakistan moves to bring tribal belt into mainstream

ISLAMABAD, August 14, 2009 (AFP) – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari unveiled political reforms in the country’s tribal belt Friday in a bid to extricate the lawless region from the grip of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Pakistan’s seven federally administered tribal areas (FATA) have become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled after the US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan in late 2001.

“From today political activities will be started and be allowed in FATA,” Zardari told senior politicians in a speech marking the 62nd anniversary of independence.

Since British rule in the 19th century, political activities have been banned in FATA, where politicians were subject to arrest. Zardari’s announcement was seen as an effort to draw the lawless region closer into national politics.

“In the long run we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life,” Zardari was quoted as saying by state news agency APP during his overnight address.

Although his civilian government is weak, Zardari is a key ally in US President Barack Obama’s strategy to defeat Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents in Pakistan and Afg