PM revives talk of peace talks with Pakistan

PM revives talk of peace talks with Pakistan

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday reached out afresh to extremist groups even as he implicitly signalled that Pakistan will be part of the final resolution of the issues in Kashmir.

Without setting out a timetable, Singh also signalled his government’s willingness to revive talks with Pakistan provided that country was willing to do its part in curbing cross-border terrorism. The Prime Minister’s remarks effectively reversed his previous position on the issue and restored the link between talks and cross-border terror that was abandoned in the joint statement conceived after a meeting between the two countries in Sharm el-Sheikh on 16 July.

With these initiatives, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has conveyed its intent to push for a political resolution in Kashmir even as it indicates to the international community that India is, despite its misgivings, willing to settle disputes with Islamabad as part of ensuring peace in South Asia.

The Prime Minister’s remarks had tacit political backing as they were made in the presence of Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi at a public rally at Wanpoh in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district, while inaugurating a train service.

If Pakistan takes the necessary action, India “will not be found wanting in our response", Singh said, offering talks on issues ranging from trade to divided families and prisoner swaps.

Acknowledging the problems with enabling easier cross-border exchanges along the Line of Control in Kashmir, he said, “We are ready to discuss these and other issues with the government of Pakistan. I hope that as a result things will be made easier for our traders, divided families, prisoners and travellers. For a productive dialogue it is essential that terrorism must be brought under control."

Significantly, Singh’s fresh peace overtures come just a month ahead of the first anniversary of the 26 November Mumbai terror strikes.

“The timing is odd. Right now the focus is on Pakistan (because of the developments there). But the Prime Minister goes to Kashmir and puts the focus on India-Pakistan," said Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.

Chellaney added: “Secondly, India keeps saying Kashmir is an integral part of India. But whenever the Indian PM goes to Kashmir, he talks about Pakistan. There is contradiction in this. Thirdly, he said both of us are victims of terrorism. This is unbecoming of the PM to label the victim and sponsor together," he said.

Disagreeing with Chellaney’s views, former foreign secretary Salman Haider said: “The Prime Minister’s offer is timely and appropriate. What we need, there is no doubt about it, is to settle all the issues diplomatically and through negotiations. Enough time has been passed."

According to Haider, the offer is a “genuine attempt" to make peace with Pakistan not a “move to gain advantage among the international community at the expense of Pakistan".

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party also alleged that it was too late to offer peace talks to the troubled neighbour. “Olive branch to separatists and terrorists are of no use as things have worsened beyond limit. After the Mumbai attack the government should be clear that no dialogue should take place without handing over the culprits of Mumbai attacks," party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters in the Capital.

But Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat backed the Prime Minister. “The government has to proceed with the dialogue, but will have to keep up the pressure to ensure that Pakistan should act against terrorist elements in its soil," Karat said, adding that the dialogue with Pakistan would include the issue of Jammu and Kashmir also. “Tangible steps against terrorism will facilitate dialogue. The dialogue with the separatist elements should be linked to the dialogue with Pakistan too."

The Prime Minister also extended an offer of friendship to the separatists, too. Insisting that “the era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end" in Jammu and Kashmir, Singh said his government was ready for a dialogue with all shades of political opinion. “We are willing to talk to anyone who has any meaningful ideas for promoting peace and development."

Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.