N.Areas need reforms: Benazir
10 October 2004
Skardu: Former prime minister and Pakistan People's Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto has vowed that if voted to power, her party will step up the drive for political and constitutional rights of the people of Northern Areas. 'Ensuring access to justice, respect for basic human rights and building of representative institutions are the principles to which the party is committed,' Ms Bhutto said in a message read out on Sunday at a public meeting in Skardu held in connection with the elections of the Northern Area Legislative Council. She reiterated PPP's pledge to urgently address the issue of political reforms in the area. Elections to 24 seats of the NALC will be held on Oct 12. The PPP has fielded 22 candidates. She said it was the first PPP government which had set up the representative institution of NA Council in the mid-seventies and taken the critical initial steps to address the serious constitutional and legal issues besetting the people of the area. She also referred to a line from the party manifesto which says 'Demands of the people of the area will be solved in accordance with their aspirations'. During the PPP government from 1993-96, the status of the Northern Areas Council was enhanced by making rules for it akin to that of a provincial assembly, she said. 'The PPP government also undertook massive development activity in the area by constructing bridges, roads and providing electricity to far-flung areas and the high rise water towers of Gilgit and Skardu were a witness to it'. The former prime minister said that the PPP was deeply conscious of the fact that since independence the 72,000-square-kilometre of Gilgit and Baltistan have been ruled almost arbitrarily and with scant participation by the people. This is against the grain of the PPP and its manifesto. It must change; it will. She said people in NAs, as in some other regions, were being ruled through outdated and anachronistic laws which militated against the human rights and needed review. The PPP had called for a requisitioned session of the Senate Committee on Human Rights to suggest changes to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), which was for Oct 24, she said. She lauded the people of NAs for supporting the PPP even during trying and turbulent times for the party and also complimented Syed Mahdi Shah, the general secretary of the PPP in the NAs, for his fight against tyrannical dictatorship of Gen Zia. Meanwhile, all arrangements have been finalized for the NALC and local bodies elections scheduled for Oct 12 and 13 in the two districts of Baltistan.