NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan is willing to commit to no first use of nuclear weapons, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Saturday, calling for more trade and easier travel between his country and India to improve bilateral relations.
He even suggested a South Asian pact to prevent use of nuclear weapons in a region rife with political and social turmoil and militancy.
“I am glad I can say it with full confidence that I can get my parliament to agree upon that,” Zardari told a conference in India through video conferencing from Islamabad.
“I’m against nuclear warfare altogether.”
Tit-for-tat nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998 fed global worries of an unchecked arms race in an unstable region, but the two countries have since desisted from more tests.
Immediately after detonating nuclear devices in 1998, New Delhi declared a moratorium on further tests and offered a no first use arrangement.
Pakistan had not reciprocated the Indian offer.
“This is pretty good news. Pakistan till now has been very reluctant to commit to no-first use,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based strategic affairs expert.
“It is quite a breakthrough, but we have to wait till tomorrow to see how the Pakistan general headquarters in Rawalpindi responds to Mr Zardari’s political initiative.”
The Pakistani army has been retreating from politics under its new chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, but many in India doubt the effectiveness of Zardari’s writ on the country’s nuclear establishment, which has little civilian oversight.
“My sense is they (the army) would be very reluctant. They would have to be brought kicking and screaming,” Bhaskar said.
Answering wide-ranging questions from Indian business leaders and politicians, Zardari said he was hopeful of resolving the dispute over Kashmir, the Himalayan region over which the two countries fought two wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
“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.
The two countries began a peace process in 2004 to resolve a host of disputes, including Kashmir, but progress has been slow and the two sides remain suspicious of each other.
To build confidence, Zardari said, the two sides should consider more trade and easier cross-border travel.
“We are looking forward to be trading partners with the world ... and, let’s say, hopefully, at the huge market of India of a billion people and then the 1.2 billion Chinese.”
Suggesting easier travel between the two countries, he said: “We can have a special card of some sort, which will then be an e-card we can show on the border.”
“We have problems, yes I admit that, but look at the challenges and look at the opportunities.”
Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Giles Elgood