Zardari suggests accord to avoid nuclear conflict in S. Asia
By Jawed Naqvi, Dawn, November 23, 2008
NEW DELHI, Nov 22: President Asif Ali Zardari dispatched Indian strategists scurrying to the boardrooms as he announced a new no first use nuclear weapons policy on Saturday, overturning years of Pakistan’s deterrence doctrine.
Mr Zardari, who addressed a videoconference with invited guests hosted annually by The Hindustan Times, made interesting conciliatory gestures towards India and won applause in Srinagar from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which thought his remarks on the way ahead for Kashmir were pregnant with possibilities.
Asked why Pakistan would not accept any doctrine against the first use of nuclear weapons, Mr Zardari replied: “We will most certainly not use it first. I don’t agree...to nuclear weapons. I hope we never get to that position.”
There were tense moments at the start of his address when the camera ambled on him without a sound link.
Mr Zardari quoted former prime minister Benazir Bhutto as saying there was a bit of Indian in every Pakistani and a bit of Pakistani in every Indian. “I don’t feel threatened by India and India shouldn’t feel threatened by us.”
He suggested a South Asian pact to prevent use of nuclear weapons in a region rife with turmoil and militancy.
On Kashmir, he said Indians and Pakistanis needed to force their politicians to come together for a dialogue and “decide” so they could do justice to the people of Kashmir.
“Let them (the people of Pakistan) force me and let the Indian people force the Indian politicians to come together to find a peaceful solution in which we can really say we have done justice to Kashmir,” he said.
Asked who he felt Kashmir belonged to today, Mr Zardari replied: “To the Kashmiri people.” The comments won applause from incarcerated leaders of pro-independence Kashmiris.
“He spoke well,” APHC chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told Dawn from Srinagar, where he is being kept under house arrest. The Mirwaiz said he was particularly pleased that Mr Zardari asked Indian and Pakistani people to mount pressure on their leaders to find a solution to the Kashmir issue. To that extent he saw similarities between the approach of Mr Zardari and former president Pervez Musharraf.
“He is carrying on the policy of flexibility on Kashmir first started by (former) President Musharraf,” the Mirwaiz said. “I hope (Indian Prime Minister) Dr Manmohan Singh was listening to the speech. India has not shown any flexibility.”
Mr Zardari, speaking from Islamabad, said he had asked for a caucus to be formed in parliament aimed at examining suggestions for improving ties with India. “I am glad I can say it with full confidence that I can get my parliament to agree upon that.”
Mr Zardari also proposed closer people-to-people ties by abolishing the bureaucratic visa regime between the two countries. He favoured an e-card for travel purposes between them instead. He said he was keen to expand trade ties with India and China.
A senior Pakistani diplomat agreed that Mr Zardari’s statement on no first use of nuclear weapons could mark a shift in the county’s strategic policy, but declined to double guess whether the head of state had thought it through.
Indian strategic analysts welcomed Mr Zardari’s remarks, but appeared to be cautious about the Pakistan army endorsing the proposed new policy. “This is pretty good news. Pakistan till now has been very reluctant to commit to no first use,” C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic affairs expert, was quoted by a news agency as saying. “It is quite a breakthrough, but we have to wait till tomorrow to see how the general headquarters in Rawalpindi responds to Mr Zardari’s political initiative.”