Islamabad: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in an interview that arch-enemy India had never been a threat to his country and that Islamic militant groups in Indian-controlled Kashmir were “terrorists.”
Zardari also indicated in the interview with the Wall Street Journal that there was an “understanding” with the United States over US missile strikes on Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas.
India and Pakistan launched a peace process in 2004 but relations between the nuclear-armed nations remain tense amid accusations that Islamabad’s powerful intelligence agencies are sponsoring Islamic militancy.
“India has never been a threat to Pakistan,” Zardari, who came to power in September after the new civilian government ousted President Pervez Musharraf, said in the interview.
Asked if he would consider a free-trade pact with India, he said: “I, for one, and our democratic government is not scared of Indian influence abroad.”
The paper said that Zardari, the widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, called Islamic militants “terrorists” during the interview, apparently the first time that any Pakistani leader has referred to them as such.
India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring an 18-year-old Islamist insurgency in the part of the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir that is controlled by New Delhi.
Pakistan denies the claim but has often spoken in support of those fighting for what it calls the right to self-determination in Kashmir, while state television runs daily segments on alleged Indian atrocities in the region.
Meanwhile the paper said that Zardari acknowledged that missile strikes by US pilotless drones based in Afghanistan were carried out with Islamabad’s consent.
“We have an understanding, in the sense that we’re going after an enemy together,” he was quoted as saying when asked about the strikes.
Zardari’s comment on the US incursions comes just days after he told the UN General Assembly that Pakistan “cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends.”