New Delhi : In a significant announcement, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari Saturday said his country will not be the first to use nuclear weapons against India. He also simultaneously made a pitch for a wider South Asian non-nuclear treaty.
“I am against nuclear warfare altogether. Most definitely,” Zardari replied, when asked if Pakistan would adopt the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. He was addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here via video-conferencing from Islamabad.
“We do not hope to even get to that position when we have to use (nuclear weapons),” he said, while proposing a South Asian non-nuclear treaty.
He went on to ask: “I can get my parliament to agree to it right away. Can you (India) get your parliament to agree to it?”
Zardari’s comments came during the two-day summit’s concluding session titled “How can India and Pakistan Work Together?”
The announcement created a flutter at the venue — and in official and strategic circles in India, which had announced a no-first-use policy soon after the 1998 nuclear tests without eliciting a matching Pakistani response.
Pakistan has always argued that since its deterrence is very small, it was not in a position to accept the no-first-use nuclear doctrine.
“If he means what he says, then it’s a change in their policy,” said an Indian official who did not wish to be named.
Zardari heads Pakistan’s Nuclear Command Authority, which has Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani as its vice chairman. But the military plays a key role in Pakistan’s nuclear affairs.
Indian strategic expert K. Subrahmanyam called Zardari’s comments “a significant change” in Pakistan’s policy.
“This is a significant change. This is against the proclaimed policy of Pakistan. But it will depend on whether he (Zardari) can get the Pakistani Army, which controls the nuclear arsenal, to accept this position.”
T.C.A. Rangachari, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, was more cautious. “We have to wait and see. Zardari’s remarks about no-first-use have to be seen together with his stress on a South Asian non-nuclear treaty.”
Both India and Pakistan became de facto nuclear weapon states in 1998.