Zardari says India is not a threat to Pakistan

October 5, 2008

Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari is starting to challenge quite a few long-held positions.

India, he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published over the weekend, ”has never been a threat to Pakistan.” For a country that has fought three wars with India, including one in 1971  that ended in humiliation and the birth of Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan, these are remarkable words.

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Indeed for a country that said it would rather eat grass in order to pay to develop nuclear bombs if India did so, the  idea that India is not a threat is a whole game-changer.

Is that what Zardari, a businessmen who many see as without the baggage that politicians carry, has set himself to do ? He is even more provocative on Kashmir, speaking of the militant Islamic groups that operate there as “terrorists”.

His predecessor Pervez Musharraf would more likely have described them as “freedom fighters”, the Wall Street Journal says. Certainly it would be hard to recall any senior Pakistani leader, his assassinated wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto included, going so far as labelling the militants in Kashmir as terrorists.

Indeed, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League seized on Zardari’s remarks, saying it would raise the issue in parliament. It said the renewed unrest in Kashmir, where a row over the transfer of land to a Hindu pilgrimage trust has snowballed into mass protests against Indian rule, had proved that the uprising  was indigenous.

Porters at the India-Pakistan checkpost

Zardari also advocated strong trade ties with India,  arguing there was no other way for economic survival for countries like his.  “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,” the Wall Street Journal said, noting that for a country that had spent most of its existence trying to match its neighbour’s military strength, this new agenda was a remarkable recognition of India’s rise as a global power.

Trade between the two countries has been rising in recent years, but is still miniscule in relation to its potential, most experts say. So difficult have ties been in the past that Pakistan would rather import tea all the way from Kenya than procure it from India.

So for Zardari to talk of turning his long distrustful nation into a service centre/manufacturing base for India’s gigantic economy is a remarkable leap into the future.  
 

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