Pakistani President Asif Zardari has addressed Pakistan's parliament for the first time, outlining plans to include lawmakers in closed-door meetings on security policies in the volatile tribal regions. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad, where Mr. Zardari again vowed to defend Pakistan's territorial integrity.
Asif Ali Zardari addressed the ongoing controversy in Pakistan over a series of suspected U.S. missile strikes and a ground raid against militant targets by saying the country will not tolerate any violations of its sovereignty.
"I ask of the government that it should be firm in its resolve to not allow the use of its soil for carrying out terrorist activities against any foreign countries," he said. "We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism."
Pakistan's military and politicians have criticized the suspected U.S. strikes in recent weeks, warning that they not only violate the country's sovereignty but undermine public support for the war against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
President Zardari said he planned to reach out to lawmakers for their support for Pakistan's counterterrorism strategy by holding a closed-door briefing with intelligence officials. He said the strategy promises peace deals for groups willing to put down their arms, development aid for the impoverished tribal regions, and military force against those who continue to challenge the government.
"Reforming the tribal areas, bringing them into the mainstream of national life can no longer be delayed. They must be treated on par with the rest of Pakistan's brethren," he said.
This was his first speech to members of parliament since he replaced Pervez Musharraf in August.
The president also addressed the broad presidential powers that he inherited from his predecessor by calling them "distortions."
He said a committee of lawmakers should determine what to do about the constitutional amendments that give him the ability to dismiss parliament. Mr. Zardari also vowed to address the country's faltering economy, improve the rights of women and work to promote peace with Pakistan's neighbors.
Opposition lawmakers in parliament criticized the speech, saying the president did not go far enough in pledging to roll-back his expanded presidential powers and has still not restored the independence of the judiciary.
Mr. Zardari travels to the United States next week, where he is expected to meet with top U.S. officials on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meetings.