ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's government on Tuesday unveiled a package of reforms in a bid to ease a separatist insurgency in Balochistan on the Afghan and Iranian borders, and maximise efforts on fighting the Taliban.
'Today's an historic day because a package for the rights of the people of Balochistan is being presented,' Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a joint session of upper and lower houses of parliament.
'The package will give people their political and economic rights in Balochistan and will once again prove the supremacy of parliament,' he said.
Hundreds of Pakistanis have died since Baloch insurgents rose up in 2004 demanding autonomy and a greater share of the profits from natural resources in the mineral-rich southwestern province.
Bomb explosions and drive-by shootings are fairly frequent in Balochistan - rife with militancy, sectarian violence and a regional insurgency.
Analysts, intelligence agents and foreign officials have widely reported that Taliban fighters use Balochistan as a base, crossing over the border into Afghanistan to and from the militia's spiritual capital of Kandahar.
Gilani discussed the Balochistan Empowerment Package with President Asif Ali Zardari who hopes it will 'go a long way in redressing the grievances of the people of the province,' presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.
'The package contains a series of constitutional reforms, economic measures and administrative steps to assuage the hurt feelings of the people of Balochistan,' Babar told AFP.
But Baloch opposition leaders said they would oppose any package that does not address the issue of missing persons or stop military operations.
'We shall not accept any package until the issue of hundreds of missing persons is resolved and military operations are halted,' Ishaq Baloch, vice president of the National Party told AFP in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.
'There have to be solid confidence-building measures before any meaningful dialogue between the central government and Baloch leaders,' Baloch said.
Agha Hassan, a spokesman for the Balochistan National Party said the reform package would be futile because of 'continued atrocities' by Pakistani paramilitary forces.
'The FC (Frontier Corps) have no respect for the privacy of citizens and storm into any home and take away our men. Some six to seven thousand of our men are missing,' Hassan told AFP.
'The centre (federal government) has always deceived Baloch people.'
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik insisted, however, that the Balochistan reforms would bring new hope to the restive province.
'Those who have gone into the mountains will come back and we will end their sense of deprivation,' Malik told reporters outside parliament.
'We will do everything in our power to end the suffering of our Baloch brethren and have taken everyone on board while preparing this package.'