Activists have hailed the Pakistani government's decision to introduce self-government in the country's troubled northwestern tribal areas; however, some believe Taliban insurgents will resist its implementation.
On Tuesday, the Pakistani government, in a bid to extend its control to insurgency-marred FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), announced that it was introducing a local self-government system to the region.
President Asif Ali Zardari announced this landmark decision on the 65th anniversary of Pakistan's day of independence (August 14) and said the new law was "in accordance with the wishes of the tribal people and (also) in accordance with their customs and traditions."
The new system would replace the centuries-old Frontier Crime Regulation Act (FCR), through which the former British colonial rulers governed these lawless areas.
The FATA includes seven tribal districts, or agencies, which Islamabad currently administers through a "political agent" - usually an influential tribal leader.
However, it is not the federal government but the Islamist militants - which include the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked terrorists - who control most parts of the FATA and use them to launch attacks on foreign troops and civilians in neighboring Afghanistan.
President Zardari lauded
Pakistani civil society, which for a long time had been demanding the introduction of a local self-government system in the FATA, has hailed President Zardari's announcement.
Mahnaz Rahman, a veteran civil society activist in Karachi, told DW that President Zardari was known to have made quite a few pro-democracy and people-friendly decisions.
"It is a good step and we should appreciate it. It is a pity that President Zardari's government is not being hailed for its progressive legislations and other such acts," Rahman said, adding that the Pakistani media tended to highlight the negative side of the Pakistan People's Party's civilian government.
"We believe that the local government system promotes good governance. It decentralizes power. We have long been demanding that the FATA be brought into the mainstream and not be treated as a colony," Rahman said.
Impossible to implement?
But there are others who think it is easier said than done.
"The decision looks good on paper," said Ayaz Amir, a columnist and member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. "Because of the ongoing insurgency, the government is unable to exercise its authority in these areas. There are military operations going on in several FATA agencies. Now we hear that there might be a military operation in North Waziristan against the Haqqanis. In these circumstances, I don't think this can be implemented."
Amir said the old tribal structure, which once worked very well for the FATA, had "completely collapsed."
"There are 'political agents' in the seven agencies but they no longer have the power they used to have. The government should first focus on curbing the insurgency and then think of instituting civilian reforms in the FATA," Amir said.
But Rahman was hopeful that these reforms can be implemented in tribal areas.
"I think the government can implement this system if it really wants to. The tribal people want their problems to be solved and they will welcome a system which is run by their own people," she said.
"Not everyone is militant in these areas, and I am sure people want change," Rahman added.
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Sarah Berning