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Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has admitted that India is not a threat to his country and described the militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir [Images] as terrorists, a statement made perhaps for the first time by a top Pakistani leader.
'India has never been a threat to Pakistan. I, for one, and our democratic government is not scared of Indian influence abroad,' Zardari told Wall Street Journal in an interview.
He spoke of the militant groups operating in Kashmir as 'terrorists', the paper said, noting that former President Pervez Musharraf [Images] would more likely have called them 'freedom fighters'.
Replying to a question, Zardari said he had no objection to the India-US nuclear cooperation pact so long as Pakistan is treated 'at par'.
'Why would we begrudge the largest democracy in the world getting friendly with one of the oldest democracy,' he asked.
Asked whether he would consider a free-trade agreement with India, the paper said he responded with a 'string of welcome, perhaps even historic, surprises.'
While seeking better ties with New Delhi [Images], he noted, 'There is no other economic survival for nations like us. We have to trade with our neighbours first.'
About Pakistan's economic crisis -- the central bank has about two months' worth of foreign currency reserves left to pay for the country's imports of oil and food -- Zardari said he looks to the world to 'give me $100 billion.'
The paper says he imagines Pakistani cement factories being constructed to provide for India's huge infrastructure needs, Pakistani textile mills meeting Indian demand for blue jeans, Pakistani ports being used to relieve the congestion at Indian ones.
Against the backdrop of the US-Pakistan row over the cross-border raids in the restive tribal belt by coalition forces from Afghanistan, Zardari said, 'I am not going to fall for this position that it's an unpopular thing to be an American friend. I am an American friend.'
About the Pakistani security forces firing on the US aircraft, he said it was merely an incident, 'and while incidents do happen, they are not important'.
However, he admitted that the US is carrying out Predator missile strikes on the Pakistani soil with his government's consent, the paper claimed.
'We have an understanding, in the sense that we're going after an enemy together,' he said.
Zardari also acknowledged the problem that had bedevilled past efforts at US-Pakistani cooperation, particularly in intelligence sharing: the widely held suspicion that Pakistani intelligence services continue to cooperate with, and even arm, the Taliban [Images].
'You know, you keep an uglier alternative around so that you may not be asked to leave,' he said, in reference to allegations that while Musharraf was fighting Islamic radicals with one hand, he was protecting them with the other.
Zardari refused to go into further detail other than to say he 'solved the problem'; the head of Pakistani intelligence agency ISI Nadeem Taj was replaced earlier this week by Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
'We want to be able to share (US) intelligence,' he said, adding, 'We need helicopters, we need night goggles, we need equipment of that sort.'
He stressed the need for precision and finesse in fighting Islamic militants, rather than large-scale military force.
'My eventual concept is that we should be taking them on as they are, as criminals.'
Of Al-Qaeda [Images] leader Osama bin Laden, he said, 'The minute I make anybody my enemy, he becomes as big as I am.'
Amid reports that Pakistan has deployed F-16s against tribal insurgents particularly because the army's own frontier troops have been routinely routed in ground fighting, Zardari said, 'What kind of a joke is this that I cannot pay my security personnel more than the Talibs are paying?'
'Those terrorists are paying their soldiers 10,000 rupees; I'm paying seven or six thousand rupees,' he was quoted as saying.
Speaking of the Marriott hotel attack in Islamabad [Images] that left 53 people dead, Zardari brought up the subject around to his economic problem. 'If I can't pay my own oil bill, how am I going to increase my police?'
'The oil companies are asking me to pay $135 (per barrel) of oil and at the same time they want me to keep the world peaceful and Pakistan peaceful,' he told the paper.
Invoking his assassinated wife and former Premier Benazir Bhutto's [Images] name repeatedly throughout the interview, Zardari said 'You know, every life has its end'.
'So, before mine ends, I want to finish this job and I want them to remember that they did get my wife and I won't let them get away with it. I do not necessarily feel that death is a reality.
'I do not deny death. But the way they did it, they killed the mother of my children so it's very personal for me. And before I finish, when my life ends, I need this job done. The sooner the better,' he said.
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