Won’t use nukes first, says Zardari, but adds a rider

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said today that Pakistan will never be the first to use nuclear weapons but then quickly added Islamabad's traditional rider: that India should sign the South Asian Non-Nuclear Treaty to free South Asia of nuclear weapons.

Experts said linking the two is a non-starter and Zardari's comments do not appear to represent a doctrinal change.

Addressing the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit via video-conferencing from Islamabad, Zardari said, "I am against nuclear warfare altogether." When asked if Pakistan would adopt the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, he said, "Most definitely, yes, we hope we will never get into that position (of using nuclear weapons). I am for a South Asian Non-nuclear Treaty."

"I can get my Parliament to agree to it right away," he said. "Can you (India) get your Parliament to agree to it?"

India, which announced a no-first-use policy soon after the 1998 nuclear tests, has proposed a no-first-use treaty to Pakistan but Islamabad rejected it arguing that its nuclear weapons programme is India-specific and it would keep its options open for parity given India's superiority in conventional arms.

In turn, Pakistan has always pushed for a South Asian treaty to freeze nuclear weapons in the region, aimed at locking the Indian nuclear programme. New Delhi has rejected it saying it has a wider concern which includes China. Former Indian Ambassador to the UN Arundhati Ghose, who played a pivotal role in New Delhi not signing the CTBT, told The Sunday Express, "It seems that it's a general answer and is not a change in the nuclear doctrine of Pakistan's establishment. He is not speaking of no-first-use policy, and by making it dependent on the South Asian treaty, it's rhetoric. This is nothing new."

Zardari, during his half-hour interaction, made all the right noises. To loud applause, he said: "There is a little bit of Indian in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistani in every Indian and I speak today as a Pakistani, as much as the little Indian in me."

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