Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan extends ‘hand of friendship’ to Pakistan


Anantnag : Taking a cue from his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday chose the Kashmir Valley to announce a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan but insisted that Islamabad needed to crush terrorists on its soil.

Support TwoCircles

Just a month before the first anniversary of the terrorist savagery in Mumbai, Manmohan Singh declared that the “era of violence and terrorism” was ending in Jammu and Kashmir and that he was ready to talk to anyone who desired peace.

But his most significant remarks, at a rally of thousands of men and women, were directed at Pakistan and coincided with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad.

In a virtual replay of what Vajpayee had said in April 2003, the Pakistan-born Manmohan Singh said in chaste Urdu: “I appeal to the government of Pakistan that the hand of friendship that we have extended should be carried forward. This is in the interest of people of India and Pakistan.”

Like now, Vajpayee’s gesture also followed months of frosty ties with Pakistan and led to his visit to Islamabad in January 2004 when army chief Pervez Musharraf was in charge.

“I call upon the people and government of Pakistan to show sincerity and good faith. As I have said many times before, we will not be found wanting in our response,” Manmohan Singh said, before flagging off a long-promised train service linking the south and north of the Kashmir Valley.

The train service will cut travel time between Anantnag and Baramulla to just about two hours.

But Manmohan Singh, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, made it clear that Islamabad needed to turn off the terror tap if there had to be genuine peace.

“For a productive dialogue it is essential that terrorism must be brought under control. I strongly believe that the majority of the people in Pakistan seek good neighbourly and cooperative relations between India and Pakistan. They seek a permanent peace. This is our view as well.”

Even as Manmohan Singh warned Pakistanis about the perils of terrorism, a horrific car bomb attack in a bustling market in Peshawar killed 87 people and injured over 200 in one of the worst incidents this year. Doctors and security agencies warned the death toll could rise.

Manmohan Singh’s peace offer to Pakistan came despite strains over what New Delhi says is Islamabad’s unwillingness to act against extremists who masterminded the Mumbai attack of November 2008 that killed 170 people.

But he also touched upon several issues including the need to speed up Jammu and Kashmir’s development, halt brain drain from the state, save the Dal Lake and develop the IT industry.

The prime minister said his government was committed to having unconditional dialogue with whoever abjured violence in Jammu and Kashmir, where separatist violence since 1989 has left thousands dead.

“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,” he said.

In her brief speech, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that Jammu and Kashmir “has a special place in the secular democracy of India”. Striking an optimistic note, she added: “There would always be problems, but there is no problem that cannot be resolved through … dialogue.”

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pointed out that both Manmohan Singh and Gandhi did not use bullet-proof screens to address the people to underline the improvement in security situation in the state. He too stressed the need to find a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem.