Pakistan Ready To Nix Nukes

pakistan-india tensions, nuclear weapons testing
Pakistan is ready to get rid of its nuclear arsenal if uneasy neighbor India also does, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday.

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

Pakistan and India declared themselves nuclear powers after detonating atomic devises in 1998. Neither arsenal is open to inspections and it's not known exactly what either Pakistan or India possesses.

Pakistan says it developed its nuclear arsenal in response to the perceived threat from India.

"Our position has been that we were forced into the situation because of Indian nuclear ambitions," he said.

The two South Asian neighbors have fought three wars since the end of British rule of the subcontinent in 1947.

Two of those wars have been over the disputed Kashmir region. The international community has been pressing the two neighbors to hold peace talks to end their relentless bickering fearing it could escalate into a nuclear confrontation.

Pakistan's offer follows a sudden and significant thawing in relations between the South Asian neighbors, which were on the brink of war less than a year ago.

The two countries said Friday they will soon hold their first talks in almost two years, and Pakistan said it had agreed to restore full diplomatic ties with India.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 78 and ailing, has indicated he would like to leave a legacy of peace between India and Pakistan.

"This round of talks will be decisive," Vajpayee told Parliament on Friday, "and at least for my life, these will be the last."

The two countries went on war footing last year after India blamed Pakistan for an attack by Islamic militants on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.

India accuses Pakistan of aiding the militants. Pakistan says it only offers the fighters moral support. Pakistan denied involvement. Tensions eased after intense diplomacy by the United States and Britain.

Last week, Vajpayee conditionally offered talks with Pakistan on the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and other issues. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has voiced some skepticism over the offer, but said it was a sign of improvement.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said Vajpayee's announcement was "a good step in the right direction."

It came four days after Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali phoned the Indian leader in the first such high-level contact in almost two years.

"We are committed to the improvement of relations with Pakistan and we are willing to grasp every opportunity for doing so," Vajpayee told Indian lawmakers.

He said he is restoring civil aviation links that were broken last year, and will appoint a new ambassador to Islamabad.

Vajpayee said he was trying for "a third time" to make permanent peace with Pakistan.

In 1999, he traveled to Lahore to meet with then-Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif, but a few months later the two nations were involved in what India calls the Kargil War in the mountains of Kashmir.

Musharraf, who led the Pakistani forces in that confrontation, later deposed Sharif in a bloodless coup.

Vajpayee invited Musharraf to talks in the Taj Mahal city of Agra in July 2001. There were no agreements, and in December the Parliament attack ended contacts.