Perspectives on Pakistan
Zardari says ready to commit to no first use of nuclear weapons
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari says he would be ready to commit to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, in what would be a dramatic overturning of Pakistan’s nuclear policy. Pakistan has traditionally seen its nuclear weapons as neutralising Indian superiority in conventional warfare, and refused to follow India’s example of declaring a no first use policy after both countries conducted nuclear tests in 1998.
Zardari was speaking via satellite from Islamabad to a conference organised by the Hindustan Times when he was asked whether he was willing to make an assurance that Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons.
“Most certainly,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “I can assure you that Pakistan will not be the first country ever to use (nuclear weapons). I hope that things never come to a stage where we have to even think about using nuclear weapons (against India). Personally, I have always been against the very concept of nuclear weapons,” he said.
So what is the Pakistan Army going to make of that? It has always seen itself as the ultimate guarantor of Pakistan’s survival, and nuclear weapons are an essential part of the country’s arsenal should its very existence come under threat.
And will Zardari’s suggestion turn out to come with conditions that would be unacceptable to India? According to the Hindustan Times, “Zardari mooted in the same breath some kind of regional cooperation for a non-nuclear South Asia”. That does not look likely to find many immediate takers in India, given that its nuclear weapons were developed as much as a defence against China as against Pakistan, and that it has just reached a nuclear deal with the United States effectively giving it recognition as a nuclear-armed state.
Zardari’s late wife, Benazir Bhutto, had championed Pakistan’s nuclear programme, which was started by her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s – India tested its first nuclear device in 1974. Have times changed so much for Pakistan that Zardari is willing to turn his back on this? Or is he just looking for the right words to set the tone for improved ties with India?
(Reuters file photo of Pakistani missile test)