Benazir Bhutto's widower and political successor said India and Pakistan should focus on improving economic ties between the longtime rivals before trying to settle the decades-old Kashmir dispute.
Asif Ali Zardari, whose Pakistan People's Party is expected to assume power in Pakistan this month, said progress on improving relations with India should not be hindered by the question of Kashmir, a territory claimed by both countries and the cause of two of their three wars since they won independence from Britain in 1947.
"When bilateral relations improve, the two nations can come back and tackle thorny issues with the benefit of improved ties," Zardari said in an interview Friday with Indian television news channel CNN-IBN, which released a transcript of the interview Saturday.
"People-to-people contacts should be improved, then trade, interdependence of trade," Zardari said.
He said the PPP has maintained a tough policy on Kashmir, firmly supporting the Kashmiris in the Indian portion of the disputed territory since 1989.
"But having said that, we don't want to be hostage to that situation. That is a situation we can agree to disagree (on)," Zardari said.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety.
The two neighbors have been holding official-level talks since 2004 aimed at resolving the Kashmir dispute but have yet to achieve a breakthrough.
The PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-N of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif emerged victorious in Pakistan's Feb. 18 parliamentary elections, thrashing the party of President Pervez Musharraf.