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Archive for Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Pakistan proposes nuclear disarmament

May 6, 2003

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— Pakistan upped the stakes in peace overtures with India on Monday, saying it would scrap its nuclear arsenal if its South Asian rival does the same.

The challenge to India -- which New Delhi did not respond to -- came after India's prime minister called for "decisive" talks with Pakistan to end the two countries' bitter rivalry.

Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over mostly Muslim Kashmir, where guerrillas are fighting a bloody war against Indian rule. Both claim the region in its entirety.

"As far as Pakistan is concerned, if India is ready to denuclearize, we would be happy to denuclearize," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokes-man Aziz Ahmed Khan said. "But it will have to be mutual."

Pakistan in-sists it developed nuclear weapons in response to the perceived threat from India, and has called for a nuclear-free zone in South Asia. India has rejected the idea, saying its nuclear program is not driven by Pakistan alone.

India began the overtures toward peace when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered a speech in Kashmir and then, last week, called for talks, although he said that peace could not be reached unless Pakistan stops backing Islamic militants in Kashmir.

Pakistan says it does not give financial support to the militants.

Both countries declared themselves nuclear powers after detonating atomic devices in 1998. Neither arsenal is open to inspections and it's not known exactly what either country possesses.

Tension threatened to boil over again last year after India blamed Pakistan for an attack on its parliament in December 2001, sparking fears that they were heading for the world's first war between nuclear powers.

After Vajpayee called for talks, Pakistan matched New Delhi's reopening of diplomatic relations and invited him to Pakistan.

Khan said Pakistan had received a "positive response" to the invitation. "We hope that the process of talks will start very soon," he said.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said Vajpayee sent a letter to Pakistan's Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali on Saturday saying "careful preparations had to be made on the ground before a meaningful and sustained dialogue" could take place.

The diplomatic thaw has gathered pace ahead of a visit this week to the region by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Armitage is to arrive on Friday in India and to meet with Indian leaders Saturday.

While Pakistani opposition groups have welcomed the prospect of talks, the Indian government faces stiff opposition from Hindu nationalists, some of them in the national government.

"There is no use talking to Pakistan when they continue to aid infiltration and insurgency," Subash Desai, general secretary of Shiv Sena, a party in Vajpayee's coalition, said Monday.

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