ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - PAKISTAN'S new President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday told parliament to abolish his wide-ranging powers and warned 'we will not tolerate' sovereignty violations after a series of cross-border strikes.
In his debut address to a joint session of parliament, Mr Zardari called for an end to the president's powers to dissolve the assembly and dismiss the government, and also pledged to tackle Pakistan's economic problems.
He warned Pakistan would not put up with violations of its sovereignty and territory in the anti-terror fight, in reference to strikes in its tribal zone by the US-led coalition based in Afghanistan.
'We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism,' Mr Zardari said, as lawmakers thumped their desks in agreement.
The widower of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, who took the oath of office on September 9, called for a cross-party committee to 'revisit' the presidency's wide-ranging powers introduced by his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.
'Never before in the history of this country has a president stood here and given away his powers,' Mr Zardari said.
Mr Zardari easily won a presidential poll among federal and state lawmakers this month, less than a year after Ms Bhutto's assassination during a campaign rally last December.
Military ruler Musharraf had resigned on August 19 after the coalition government threatened to impeach him over constitutional violations including his failure to address parliament annually.
Mr Zardari now heads a frontline 'war on terror' ally under intense pressure to quash militants launching attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan from its tribal regions.
Direct US missile strikes on Al-Qaeda linked militants, and an incursion by its soldiers into Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, have raised tensions with Washington.
Mr Zardari is due to meet US President George W. Bush for the first time on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
As the latest suicide blast killed six including two soldiers near the Afghan border, the president urged the government to ensure Pakistani soil is not used by extremists.
'I ask of the government that it should be firm in its resolve not to allow the use of its soil for carrying out terrorist activities against any foreign country,' he said.
Mr Zardari said the government had a 'three-pronged strategy' to deal with extremism in tribal areas, including dialogue with law-abiding tribes, a development plan for the area and the use of force only as 'the last resort'.
He asked the government to hold a closed joint session for a national security briefing on the strategy.
'Let everyone have the opportunity to make an informed judgement about the risks to our beloved country and about how we should move forward with responsibility, clarity and vision,' he said.
Mr Zardari also pledged to tackle an economy which is already dependent on foreign aid. Pakistan's stock market has lost around 40 percent of its value since January, and inflation is running at a 30-year high.
'The greatest challenge this government faces is an economic one. No elected government can survive the prospects fo its people going hungry,' he said.
Mr Zardari's presidency returns Pakistan to civilian rule after eight years under Mr Musharraf. He has spent years in jail on corruption and murder charges - now dismissed - and previously earned the nickname 'Mr. Ten Per cent'. -- AFP