PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari has given up control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in a bid to fend off mounting pressures threatening to weaken his rule further and complicate the war on the Taliban.
Mr Zardari took the decision overnight as an amnesty protecting him and key aides from corruption cases expired and risked flinging the country, struggling to contain a Taliban insurgency in the northwest, into fresh political crisis.
The presidency announced that control of the National Command Authority, which analysts and lawyers confirmed is responsible for nuclear weapons, had shifted to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
"The president has handed over his power regarding the national command and control authority to me and has issued an ordinance," Mr Gilani said.
Islamabad earlier this month rejected a report in The New Yorker magazine that raised fears of a militant seizure of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and suggested that the US had a hand in protecting the arsenal.
Mr Zardari's predecessor, military ruler Pervez Musharraf, enforced a state of emergency in 2007, introducing a 17th amendment to the constitution that gives the president the power to dissolve parliament and sack the prime minister.
"We are going in the right direction. There is no threat to democracy and to the present government," said Mr Gilani, a member of Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) but who is said to enjoy closer relations with the military.
"He believes in the balance of power between the presidency and the parliament and he is committed to undo the 17th amendment," he said.