Zardari unveils plan to free tribal belt from Taliban
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari unveiled political reforms in the country's tribal belt yesterday 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 independence day since Pakistan was created out of the Indian sub-continent.
Political activities were previously 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 Afghanistan, where 100,000 US and Nato troops are deployed.
Pakistani and US officials believe that Pakistan's public enemy number one, Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud, was killed last week during a US spy plane attack on his South Waziristan tribal stronghold.
Mehsud's Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan movement appears to have been thrown into turmoil following his presumed death and analysts have urged Pakistan to now bolster efforts to eliminate militants in tribal strongholds.
Pakistan has waged countless military operations in the tribal belt, most recently a six-month offensive that killed hundreds of people in Bajaur, which the military announced in February was secure.