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Pakistan says it is for nuclear-free South Asia

Pakistan's president has assured rival India he would not be the first to use atomic weapons and he proposed the idea of a nuclear-free South Asia, Pakistani and Indian media reports said Sunday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Pakistan's president assured rival India he would not be the first to use atomic weapons in any future conflict and proposed the idea of a nuclear-free South Asia.

Pakistan's nuclear doctrine does not contain a clause saying the country will not use its weapons first in any conflict, unlike India. It was not clear if President Asif Ali Zardari's comments Saturday represented a formal change in policy.

Either way, they were another sign of his warmness toward India, which has been traditionally regarded as Pakistan's No. 1 enemy.

He made the remarks in question-and-answer session Saturday at an event organized by The Hindustan Times, a major Indian newspaper. He was speaking by video conference from Pakistan.

'Against nuclear warfare'
Asked by a student whether Pakistan was prepared to say it would not use a nuclear weapon first, Zardari said: "Most definitely, I am against nuclear warfare altogether."

The moderator then asked the question again, pointing out to Zardari that his earlier answer was a "headline." Zardari again replied "Definitely."

Predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars since they were created in the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent at independence from Britain in 1947.

The stakes got much higher after both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

Zardari also proposed the idea of a nuclear-free South Asia, saying he could persuade lawmakers to support such a plan.

"I am sure I can get my Parliament to agree with that, straight on. Can you say the same?" he asked those in attendance, including Indian government and business leaders. He gave no more details on the plan, which Pakistan has proposed before.