ISLAMABAD The federation on Friday unveiled a major plan of political reforms and development in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) as part of efforts to blunt the appeal for militancy by allowing greater political activities through key amendments in the relatively tough federal laws and initiating comprehensive development projects. President Asif Ali Zardari signed the decree that allows political parties to operate freely in Fata. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was also present who announced development projects for Fata. The law amendments include changes in Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and extension of Political Parties Order 2002 to tribal areas. The Fata has been in the international focus since 9/11 terrorist attacks and later the US-led international war against terror, as the area is not only has strongholds of defunct TTP, headquartered in Waziristan, but is also considered by the US as the global headquarters of al-Qaeda. In his speech at a ceremony at the President House, President Zardari declared: In the long run we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life, Zardari said, describing the system of justice in the tribal belt as 'obsolete. The president also accepted the demand to set up a hospital in Fata and assured that it will be constructed on fast track. The two orders signed by the president will set into motion the far reaching administrative, judicial and political reforms in the tribal areas he had announced on the eve of Independence Day two years ago but the implementation of which had been stalled for various reasons. Henceforth the political parties, subject to appropriate regulations to be framed, will be freely allowed to operate in the tribal areas and present their socio-economic programmes, the Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar said. Babar said that by allowing political parties to operate freely means 'a vacuum has been filled and that parties would now liaise with tribal elders in order to carry out their activities in a peaceful manner. Under the reforms, an accused has to be produced before an authority within 24 hours of his arrest and has the right to bail. The practice of arresting tribesmen under the notion of 'collective responsibility will also be softened, said Babar. Prime Minister Gilani in his remarks said the government had launched the second cadet college in Wana, South Waziristan, and three more such colleges would be constructed. Similarly, the government has started work on two highways of international standard and work on two more is about to start, he added. The PM said, We shall ensure that all traditional routes of the historical passes are brought up to international standards to facilitate trade with Afghanistan, Central Asian States and beyond. The Pakistani security forces have been fighting against foreign and homegrown militants in much of the tribal belt, but because of long porous border they have been enjoying a fair degree of freedom of movement, despite action against them on the both sides of the border over the past decade. Security experts believe that this was largely due to the lesser number of security checkpoints set up either by the Nato/ Isaf forces and lack of will and action on part of the Afghan government that led to increase in cross-border incursions in Pakistan from the Afghanistan side. In past few months, even those local militants who had fled operations by Pakistani military and slipped into Afghanistan, have been returning to mount major attacks on the security forces and police in Fata. Afp ads:Talking to the media explaining the salient features of the reforms package Babar said contrary to past practice an accused shall have right to bail and it will be mandatory to produce him before the concerned authority within 24 hours of arrest. Women, children below 16 and aged above 65 shall not be arrested or detained under collective responsibility. He said that henceforth the whole tribe will not be arrested under the collective responsibility clause. Step-wise action will be taken, at first immediate male members of family will be arrested followed by sub-tribe and then by other sections of the tribe, he said. Cases will now be disposed of in a fixed timeframe and checks placed on arbitrary power of arrest under the notorious Section 40-A of the FCR. Appeals will lie before appellate authority comprising of commissioner and a dedicated additional commissioner (judicial) to be notified by the governor. The reforms envisage setting of a Fata tribunal headed by chairman and two other members out of whom one shall be a person who has been civil servant of not less than BPS 20 having experience of tribal administration and other member shall be a person qualified to be appointed as judge of high court well conversant with Rewaj. The FATA tribunal shall exercise power of revision against orders/judgments of appellate authority and shall have powers similar to high court under Article 199 of the Constitution. A new section has been added for action against false prosecution in civil and criminal matters. Under it the defendant will be entitled to adequate compensation in criminal matters and compensatory costs in civil matters. He said that no person shall be deprived of his property without adequate compensation as per prevailing market value in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 procedure in settled areas. For the first time the funds at the disposal of the political agent shall be audited by Auditor General of Pakistan, the spokesperson said. Section 58-A has been added to make provision for jail inspections by FATA tribunal, appellate authority and political agent. Rules will be framed for regulating the Agency Welfare Fund. The political reforms are expected to gradually help Pakistani government to tighten its writ through political means and purge Fata of terrorism and extremism. The observers also opined that this development might lead to creation of another province for administrative purposes. Local tribesmen were alienated as result of US-imposed war against terror on Pakistan a decade ago, making it easier for militant networks to recruit young men to take up arms to fight the Pakistani government and avenge a covert American drone war. During this course thousands of Pakistani civilians and security personal embraced martyrdom. Held in the jam packed hall of the Presidency the signing ceremony was witnessed by tribal elders drawn from all the seven tribal agencies, five frontier regions, Fata parliamentarians, KPK governor, provincial cabinet of KPK, diplomats, civil society members, media persons and representatives of a number of NGOs. Farhatullah Babar said representatives of various political parties who had earlier formed a multi parties Joint Committee on FATA Reforms and had called on the president in March this year calling for early implementation of the promised reforms also witnessed the signing ceremony. The political parties represented included ANP, PML-N, JI, PPP-S, PML-Q, MQM-S, NP, PKMAP and JUI (F). The prime minister, federal ministers, secretaries and diplomats also attended the function. Tribal elders, FATA parliamentarians and representatives of political parties behind the Presidents desk signalled the broad based consensus of all stakeholders as the driving force behind the reforms package, he said. Speaking on the occasion the President said that his head bowed in gratitude before Allah for having fulfilled yet another promise made with the people of FATA. He congratulated the tribesmen for harmonising reforms with their tribal customs and traditions. He said that the legal and political reforms would rid the tribal people from a century of bondage and usher them into mainstream of national life while respecting local customs and traditions. Some may say that the reforms are not enough and much more needs to be done, he said adding let it also not be forgotten that no one took even a single step in the last one hundred years to reform the FCR and give political rights to the people. The president said that the door had been unlocked and it is for the people of tribal areas to decide how much reforms they wanted in their system of governance. Any system imposed on them from outside would be counterproductive, the president cautioned. Babar said the reforms hammered out in consultation with all stakeholders approved in principle on August 12, 2009 in a meeting in the Presidency that was also attended by the prime minister. The meeting had left it to the president to announce it any time he deemed fit. Although the president had announced the reforms two days later on the eve of 63rd Independence Day, its implementation was stalled for a variety of reasons, Babar said. The signing today has made the process of reforms irreversible, he said. Any attempt to undo it will require dismantling of consensus among the stakeholders and another order to be signed by the president, Babar said. The century old Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will be tamed to make it responsive to the human rights of the people, he said. The permission to political parties to sell their programs in tribal areas will counter the pernicious one-sided campaign of militants to impose their ideological agenda on the people rejecting the state, the Constitution, democracy and indeed our very way of life, he said. President Zardari said the law had been changed in accordance with the aspirations of the people and democratic principles while respecting local customs and traditions. Babar said after the amendments in the law the arbitrary powers of arrest and detention without the right to bail had been curtailed. He said that the FCR was a draconian law under which there is no provision of appeal, wakeel or daleel (no right to appeal, or engaging lawyer or reliance on reasoning) against the orders of the executive. The tribesmen were subjected to the whims of administration officials. People have been arrested and kept in jail for long years without trial under the FCR. Under it, a person could be sent to jail for three years without trial. The jail term could be extended indefinitely in installments of three years and under the territorial responsibility women and children had been arrested and sent to jail in the past. The amendments have changed the most obnoxious provisions of FCR, Babar maintained. Giving background of the efforts made in the past to bring about the changes, Babar said, in November 2004, the Senate passed a unanimous PPP resolution calling for changes in the FCR. In 2004, the former prime minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto formed a special committee of the PPP called the Fata Reforms Committee. Subsequently, she also filed a petition in the Supreme Court for political reforms in the tribal areas. In November 2004, the Senate adopted a PPP resolution for reforms in Fata. In August 2005 the Senate adopted the report of its Committee of Human Rights that called for changes in the FCR. In August 2008, the Bhutto Foundation invited hundreds of tribesmen from all tribal agencies to solicit their views on the FCR and on political reforms in the tribal areas who unanimously recommended a minimum set of reforms. In January 2009, the President invited Fata tribesmen to the Presidency and heard them say what they had to about the FCR and political reforms. The cabinet committee on FCR under Farooq Naek considered all of these and other previous reports that had recommended changes in the law in accordance with the wishes of the people. Next month the Cabinet approved the report of the cabinet committee on FCR which were also approved by the President, he said. In March 2011, representatives of major political parties called on the President in the Presidency demanding an early implementation of the reforms package.