NEW YORK - "India has never been a threat to Pakistan," President Asif Ali Zardari was quoted as saying by a major US newspaper on Saturday. "I, for one, and our democratic government is not scared of Indian influence abroad," he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The president made that statement when asked whether he would consider a free-trade agreement with traditional archenemy India, WSJ's Bret Stephens said Zardari responded "with a string of welcome, perhaps even historic, surprises," saying, "India has never been a threat to Pakistan." Correspondent Stephens said Zardari "speaks of the militant Islamic groups operating in Kashmir as 'terrorists' - former president Musharraf would more likely have called them 'freedom fighters' - and allows that he has 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 democracies in the world?" In his dispatch based on the interview, Stephen wrote, "Not only does Mr Zardari want better ties with Delhi, he notes that 'there is no other economic survival for nations like us. We have to trade with our neighbours first'. "He (Zardari) 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. For a country that spent most of its existence trying to show that it's the military equal of its neighbour, the agenda amounts to a remarkable recognition of the strides India has made in becoming a true world power. "But before Pakistan can hope to save itself by completely reshaping the situation on its eastern frontier, it has the more pressing problem of resolving the crisis to its west, in its tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, the dispatch added. At the outset, Stephens, who interviewed the president in New York last Saturday, said Zardari "crafted his phrases in a tone of command. Pakistan's war, he says, is "my war," its fighter jets "my F-16s," its Intelligence Bureau "my IB." When he discusses Pakistan's economic crisis, he says he looks to the world to "give me $100 billion." Stephen wrote, "For a man who has been president for less than a month, that's an ambitious request - all the more given his checkered past. Mr Zardari is, of course, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former two-time Pakistani prime minister assassinated last December shortly after her tumultuous return from an eight-year exile. He invokes her name repeatedly throughout our interview, at times to stress the importance he attaches to women's rights and empowerment, at other times to underline how personally he takes the threat of Islamic radicalism. "But Mr Zardari is also known as "Mr Ten Percent," a moniker he acquired thanks to his legendary reputation for graft. At one time or another, he and his late wife were suspected of profiting (or seeking to profit) from corrupt schemes involving everything from the purchase of Polish tractors and French jets to the import of gold bullion. In 2006, he even produced a diagnosis of dementia from two New York psychiatrists as part of an effort to defend himself in a corruption case in Britain. "These days, Mr Zardari seems to be in excellent mental health - if indeed he was ever unwell. Nor does he seem particularly vexed by his own past notoriety. All charges against him were eventually dropped in a political deal the previous government of president Pervez Musharraf struck with Bhutto, and as president he enjoys legal immunity." As for the broader corruption concerns, he said that corruption "has been used for a long time as a political tool," particularly by "radicals" trying to sully democracy's good name. Foreign investors, he adds, have been coming to Pakistan for decades, and "none of them have complained about corruption." "That last observation may come as news to at least a few investors - Pakistan ranked near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption perception index in 1995, the last full year during which Ms Bhutto was in power. Investors might also have memories of the circumstances in which Ms Bhutto's second government collapsed in 1996," Stephens said, adding: "Mr Zardari occupied the post of Pakistan's minister of investments, reporting to his wife. Crisis of confidence "Put simply, the economic crisis Mr Zardari faces today is, at least in part, a crisis of confidence in him. He alludes to this problem only once in the interview, noting that before he can hope to get foreign help he will 'have to make my credibility, my case.' Still, he has a simple and powerful argument to make that the world cannot allow his government to fail - not when it's becoming increasingly plausible that Pakistan itself, with its stockpile of as many as 200 nuclear warheads, could be toppled by al Qaeda and its allies." "I need your help," he says more than once in the interview. "If we fall, if we can't do it, you can't do it." Stephen said, "In asking for the help - and $100 billion is no small request - Zardari insisted that it not be described as aid". "Aid is proven through the researches of the World Bank . . . [to be] bad for a country," he says. "I'm looking for temporary relief for my budgetary support and cash for my treasury which does not need to be spent by me. It is not something I want to spend. But [it] will stop the [outflow] of my capital every time there is a bomb ... In this situation, how do I create capital confidence, how do I create businessmen's confidence?" Zardari seems anxious to downplay any differences with the US, WSJ 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." The firing on the US aircraft was, he says, merely an incident, "and while incidents do happen, they are not important." "We have an understanding, in the sense that we're going after an enemy together." He also acknowledges the problem that had bedeviled past efforts at US-Pakistani cooperation, particularly in intelligence sharing. "You know, you keep an uglier alternative around so that you may not be asked to leave," he says, in reference to Mr Musharraf's habit of fighting Islamic radicals with one hand while protecting them with the other. Mr Zardari refuses to go into further detail other than to say he "solved the problem"; the head of Pakistani intelligence was fired earlier this week. "We want to be able to share [US] intelligence," he says. "We need helicopters, we need night goggles, we need equipment of that sort." He stresses the need for precision and finesse in fighting militants, rather than large-scale military force. "My eventual concept is that we should be taking them on as they are, as criminals." On Osama bin Laden he says, "the minute I make anybody my enemy, he becomes as big as I am."