Anantnag (Kashmir): In a fresh initiative, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday expressed the Centre’s willingness to “talk to anyone” having “meaningful ideas” to promote peace in Jammu and Kashmir and offered to resume dialogue with Pakistan provided it curbed activities of those engaged in terrorism in India.
Flanked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and state leaders - chief minister Omar Abdullah, Union Ministers Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed - Singh announced Centre’s assistance to a series of development measures in the state at a public meeting here.
Affirming that “the era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end”, the Prime Minister recalled that five years ago his government had committed itself to having unconditional dialogue with “whoever abjures violence” after which the government had held discussions with different groups and implemented a number of initiatives.
“I wish to say again today that we are willing to talk to anyone who has any meaningful ideas for promoting peace and development in Kashmir.
“We want to carry all sections of the people with us in resolving the political and economic problems of Jammu and Kashmir,” Singh said.
After the meeting, the Prime Minister and other leaders flagged off the 18-km long Anantnag-Qazigund section of the Kashmir rail project. “The day is not far when trains will run from Jammu to Srinagar through the Banihal pass,” he said.
Recalling his peace offer in 2004, the Prime Minister said the “most fruitful and productive discussions” with Pakistan were held between 2004-07 when militancy and violence had begun to decline.
“Intensive discussions were held on all issues including on a permanent resolution of the issue of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said adding that for the first time in 60 years, people were able to travel by road across the Line of Control (LoC).
He noted that divided families were re-united and trade between the two sides of Kashmir had begun and overall trade with Pakistan had increased three-fold during 2004-07.
“We were moving in the right direction. For the first time there was a feeling among the people that a durable and final peace was around the corner.
“However, all the progress that we achieved has been repeatedly thwarted by acts of terrorism,” Singh said adding that the terrorists want permanent enmity between the two countries.
The Prime Minister said he strongly believed that the majority of the people in Pakistan sought good neighbourly and cooperative relations with India.
“They seek a permanent peace. This is our view as well,” Singh said.
Noting that the cross-LoC initiatives have been well received on both sides of the border, Singh said the same could be bettered through “productive dialogue” for which terrorism must be brought under control.
“Trade facilities at the border are inadequate. There are no banking channels. Customs facilities need to be strengthened. There are no trade fairs. The lists of tradable commodities need to be increased.
“Clearances for travel take time. Prisoners of India and Pakistan are languishing in each other’s jails even after completing their sentences,” he said.
Singh said the resolution of these humanitarian issues require cooperation of Pakistan.
“We are ready to discuss these and other issues with the Government of Pakistan ... For a productive dialogue it is essential that terrorism must be brought under control,” the Prime Minister said.
The Prime Minister said India will press the Government of Pakistan to curb the activities of those elements that were engaging in terrorism in India.
“If they are non-state actors, it is the solemn duty of the government of Pakistan to bring them to book, to destroy their camps and to eliminate their infrastructure. The perpetrators of the acts of terror must pay the heaviest penalty for their barbaric crimes against humanity,” he said.
Singh said it was a ”misplaced idea” that one could reach a compromise with the ideology of terrorists or that they can be used for one’s own purpose.
“Eventually they turn against you and bring only death and destruction. The real face of the terrorists is clear for the people of Pakistan to see with their own eyes,” he said.
He said India will press Pakistan to curb the activities of those elements that were engaging in terrorism in this country.
“I hope that the Government of Pakistan will take the ongoing actions against the terrorist groups to their logical conclusion. They should destroy these groups wherever they are operating and for whatever misguided purpose,” Singh said.
Calling upon the people and the Government of Pakistan to show their sincerity and good faith, the Prime Minister said “as I have said many times before, we will not be found wanting in our response.”
“It is my appeal to the Government of Pakistan to take forward the hand of friendship that we have extended to it. This is for the good of the people of India and Pakistan,” he said.
Singh also made a strong pitch for the reversal of the brain drain in Jammu and Kashmir to ensure the return of professionals to the state.
Singh also appealed to the youth fo the region to join in building new Kashmir.
“I understand their frustration. But things are changing. I urge them to think constructively about how to build their futures,” he said.
“We have to reverse the brain drain that has denuded the state of many of the teachers, doctors, engineers and intellectuals. We have to create the conditions for them to return and to be the instruments of change and development,” Singh said.
Thousands of professionals have fled Jammu and Kashmir since militancy erupted in the state two decades ago. The violence spree has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
He said “unprecedented resources” had been committed to the state for its comprehensive reconstruction.
“But I recognise that the benefits are trickling down slowly. This state of affairs should change. We have to speed up the pace of development in the state,” he said.
Singh said that the Centre had taken a number of steps to bring development to Jammu and Kashmir in the last five years.
Singh said that the under the “Skill Development to Employment” Programme, the Tourism Ministry will train 300 youths of the State.
In addition, 200 youths will be trained and deployed as tourist escorts during the Amarnath and Vaishno Devi Yatras, he said adding that the Labour Ministry will train 8000 youths in the ITIs every year.
Singh said that he believed that the IT Sector in the state can be as developed as in other states of the country.
“We will fully support the efforts of the State in this area. I am happy that more than 600 youth of the State trained under a Central government project have been employed in the IT sector recently,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that the Centre has also decided to set up two Central Universities in the state - one in Jammu and one in Kashmir.
He said the Centre has decided to commit additional funds of Rs356 crore for conservation of the picturesque Dal Lake.