Curb terror to create ‘maahol’ for talks, PM tells Pakistan

By F. Ahmed and Sarwar Kashani, IANS,

Srinagar : Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday ended a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir saying that curbing terrorism by Pakistan was not a precondition but “a practical way” to create an atmosphere conducive for peace talks.

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“India’s and Pakistan’s destinies are very closely interlinked. If negotiations to deal with all outstanding issues are to make any headway, it is essential that the terrorist elements should be brought under control,” Manmohan Singh told reporters here, referring to Pakistan and the anti-India Islamist groups based there.

“We are a democracy. If day in and day out terrorist attacks continue to take precious lives, we cannot create the requisite ‘maahol’ (atmosphere) for meaningful negotiations. It is not a precondition (for talks). It is a practical way of looking at things,” he said, a day after extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan.

He said for confidence building measures to take root, “we require the cooperation of the government and people of Pakistan. We will be happy to discuss… these issues with Pakistan. I sincerely hope that Pakistan will create an atmosphere in which negotiations (can take place)”.

The prime minister took questions on a variety of issues at his media interaction in Srinagar, the urban hub of a dragging separatist drive that has left thousands dead in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989. These ranged from Maoist insurgency to Kashmir’s infrastructure.

At the same time, Manmohan Singh said he was not satisfied with the action taken by Pakistan against the masterminds of the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 that left some 170 people dead in India’s financial capital.

“We are not satisfied. That goes without saying,” he said. “We hope Pakistan will take effective measures to bring to justice all the perpetrators of 26/11.”

Manmohan Singh denied Islamabad’s allegations that India was backing the insurgency in Balochistan and the Taliban to destabilise Pakistan. “What was said about the Indian role in Balochistan has no basis. Those who are levelling these false charges know it jolly well.

“The same applies to the accusation of India supporting the Taliban. Nothing can be far fetched, far from the truth. We are victims of terrorism aided and abetted from the Pakistan side. Both, references to Balochistan and what is said about Taliban, are widely false,” he said.

A day after declaring he was ready to embrace anyone to win peace in Kashmir, he voiced hope that “my appeal for dialogue will be reciprocated in the same spirit in which it was made” and asked separatists to give up the gun and begin talks”.

“We are willing to engage in serious discussions with every group provided they shun the path of violence. We are willing to carry all stakeholders with us,” he said.

The prime minister, who Wednesday inaugurated a railway link between Anantnag and Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley, said he was “satisfied” with his Kashmir visit. He told the state government that New Delhi would “extend full support” for peace and development of the state.

“I had fruitful discussions with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and his cabinet colleagues. I had wide-ranging discussions with various political parties and sections of the civil society,” he said, announcing a slew of measures initiated by the central government for the state.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who also heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), accompanied Manmohan Singh to the Kashmir Valley. For the first time, both addressed a mammoth rally together in Anantnag without using the customary bullet-proof screens.

The prime minister pledged to provide support to economic reconstruction, employment generation and infrastructure building in the only Muslim-majority state. He said Jammu and Kashmir had the potential to become one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations.

The central government, he said, would provide additional 500 MWs of power to the state during the winter — a step likely to bring relief to the people in the power-starved state.

About escalating Maoist violence, the prime minister said it needed to be dealt with “in a holistic way”.

“Every state has to maintain and enforce law and order. Law and order is a precondition for any sustained social and economic development,” he said.