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Pakistan Offers Nuclear Disarmament Talks with India - 2004-04-05

Pakistan has offered to hold nuclear disarmament talks with India next month in Islamabad. A foreign ministry statement says Pakistan has proposed May 25 and 26 for an expert-level meeting to discuss concerns both neighbors have about each other's nuclear weapons. The proposal was conveyed to the Indian embassy in Islamabad and is part of efforts to reduce tensions and improve bilateral relations. Pakistani officials say the discussions are primarily meant to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict in case another war breaks out between India and Pakistan.

The unresolved territorial dispute over Kashmir is the main source of bilateral tensions. The divided region has sparked two wars between India and Pakistan since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have in the past few years equipped their armies with nuclear weapons, making the South Asian region one of the world's most feared potential nuclear flash points.

"Pakistan has adopted a first-use posture, which means that if it feels that its security is threatened, it can use the nuclear weapons even though the other country has not used nuclear weapons," said Abdul Hamid Nayyar, a senior research fellow at Islamabad's private Sustainable Development Policy Institute. "And Pakistan also fears that India's conventional superiority can always corner it into a situation where it will have to use nuclear weapons. That makes India very worried about Pakistan."

Pakistan and India resumed talks in February, after a gap of nearly three years. Officials from the two countries finalized what they call a "basic road map" in those discussions to resolve the Kashmir dispute and address other issues straining relations.

Under the agreement, foreign ministers from India and Pakistan are expected to meet in August to review the progress in the talks. Indian and Pakistani officials are to meet in Islamabad this week to discuss opening a new bus service across the disputed border in Kashmir.