Declaring that India is not a “threat” to his country, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has described the militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir as “terrorists”, the first such admission by any top Pakistani leader.
“India has never been a threat to Pakistan. I, for one, and our democratic Government is not scared of Indian influence abroad,” Zardari told ‘Wall Street Journal’ in an interview
He spoke of the militant groups operating in Kashmir as “terrorists,” the paper said noting that former President Pervez Musharraf would more likely have called them “freedom fighters.”
Indicating a major shift in Pakistan’s well known position, Zardari had, as chief of Pakistan People’s Party, said in March that the ties between two countries should not be held “hostage” to the Kashmir issue, which should be left for future generations to decide, raising hackles at home.
The latest positive signals from Zardari come days fater his maiden meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here on the sidelines of UN General Assembly meeting.
Replying to a question, Zardari said he had no objection to the India-US nuclear deal so long as Pakistan is treated “at par.”
“Why would we grudge the largest democracy in the world getting friendly with one of the oldest democracy?” he said.
Asked whether he would consider a free-trade agreement with India, the paper said he responded with a “string of welcome, perhaps even historic, surprises.”
While seeking better ties with New Delhi, he noted that “there is no other economic survival for nations like us. We have to trade with our neighbours first.”
About Pakistan’s economic crisis-the central bank has about two months’ worth of foreign currency reserves left to pay for the country’s imports of oil and food-Zardari said he looks to the world to “give me USD 100 billion.”
The paper says he imagines Pakistani cement factories being constructed to provide for India’s huge infrastructure needs, Pakistani textile mills meeting Indian demand for blue jeans, Pakistani ports being used to relieve the congestion at Indian ones.
Against the backdrop of the US-Pakistan row over the cross-border raids in the restive tribal belt by coalition forces from Afghanistan, Zardari said “I am an American friend” and admitted that the US is carrying out Predator missile strikes on the Pakistani soil with his Government’s consent, the paper reported.
“We have an understanding, in the sense that we’re going after an enemy together,” he said.
“I am not going to fall for this position that it’s an unpopular thing to be an American friend. I am an American friend,” he said.
About the Pakistani security forces firing on the US aircraft, he said it was merely an incident, “and while incidents do happen, they are not important.”
Zardari also acknowledged the problem that had bedevilled past efforts at US-Pakistani cooperation, particularly in intelligence sharing: the widely held suspicion that Pakistani intelligence services continue to cooperate with, and even arm, the Taliban.
“You know, you keep an uglier alternative around so that you may not be asked to leave,” he said, in reference to allegations that while Musharraf was fighting Islamic radicals with one hand, he was protecting them with the other.
Zardari refused to go into further detail other than to say he “solved the problem”. The head of ISI Nadeem Taj was replaced this week by Ahmad Shuja Pasha. (PTI)