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President Says Pakistan Will Not Tolerate Incursions, Must Tackle Terrorism

Pakistani troop at a checkpoint in Pakistan's restive Bajaur tribal area near the Afghan border in August
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has told lawmakers in his first address to parliament since being inaugurated early this month that his country will not tolerate any infringement of its sovereignty or territory in the name of the fight against militancy, adding that Pakistan must root out terrorism.

Zardari won a presidential election this month to replace Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down in August under threat of impeachment.

Zardari is close to the United States and had earlier vowed to maintain nuclear-armed Pakistan's commitment to the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, even though it is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis.

The United States and Afghanistan say Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants operate out of sanctuaries in remote ethnic Pashtun lands on the Pakistani side of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Frustrated by an intensifying Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the United States has stepped up attacks on militants in Pakistan with six missile attacks by pilotless drones and a helicopter-borne ground assault this month.

The U.S. attacks have infuriated many in Pakistan, which is also battling militants, and the army has vowed to stand up to aggression across the border.

But a senior Pakistani official told Reuters earlier that the latest missile strike, which killed five militants on September 17, was the result of better U.S.-Pakistani intelligence sharing.

Zardari, the widower of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, did not refer directly to the U.S. strikes but said territorial infringements would not be tolerated.

"We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism," Zardari told the joint sitting of parliament.

At the same time, Pakistan must stop militants from using its territory for attacks on other countries, Zardari said.

"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 country," Zardari said.

India accuses Pakistan of arming, abetting and sending insurgents across the border into Indian-controlled Kashmir, where militants have been fighting security forces since 1989.

Pakistan says it only offers political support to what it calls a legitimate freedom struggle by the mostly Muslim people of Kashmir.

"We must root out terrorism and extremism wherever and whenever they may rear their ugly heads," Zardari said.

'Pakistan Not Ready'

U.S. President George W. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said on September 19 that Pakistan is not yet equipped to combat the militant threat emanating from the remote border area near Afghanistan.

U.S. national security adviser Hadley
Hadley would not discuss American counterterrorism efforts in that area, including a reported U.S. commando raid, but said Washington was trying to help Pakistan's government address the threat.

"This is a problem that's been created in sovereign Pakistani territory, and the problem is going to be solved when Pakistan has an ability to exercise control over that territory," Hadley told reporters. "We recognize that in the short term right now, there are threats emanating out of that area that threaten Pakistan, that threaten our troops in Afghanistan, and potentially threaten the homeland."

Bush is expected to meet with President Zardari on September 23, ahead of the UN General Assembly.

Hadley declined to address the strikes or concerns that U.S. forces could come under fire from Pakistani troops if they entered Pakistan without Islamabad's permission. "We want to cooperate closely with Pakistan, we also need to ensure as best we can that threats do not materialize out of that area," Hadley said. "We work very closely with Pakistan authorities."

With violence declining in Iraq, Washington has increased its focus on Afghanistan and the border region with Pakistan, where attacks have soared over the past two years.