No alternative to dialogue with Pakistan: Mammohan Singh | delhi | Hindustan Times
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No alternative to dialogue with Pakistan: Mammohan Singh

delhi Updated: Feb 27, 2010 21:27 IST

In his first comment on the recent talks with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said there was "no alternative" to dialogue to resolve issues which "divide us" and that India was ready to discuss all matters including Kashmir in an atmosphere free from terror.

Singh said India seeks "peaceful and normal relations" with Pakistan and "in that quest we have consistently sought to engage those in Pakistan who are ready to work with us."

In an interview to Saudi journalists ahead of his visit to Riyadh that began on Saturday, he said it was in the common interest of India and Pakistan to cooperate in fighting the menace of terrorism which hurts both.

"There is no change in our position... We should be good neighbours. There is no alternative to dialogue to resolve the issues that divide us," he said.

Singh was responding when asked whether the decision to have Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan reflected a change in India's stand that the stalled peace process can resume only if Islamabad acts against the planners of the Mumbai attack.

To a question on talks with Pakistan, he said, "Today the primary issue is terrorism."

Asked how serious was the Pakistan Taliban threat to India, especially to Jammu and Kashmir, Singh said that as a neighbour, India could not remain immune to the rise of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan or on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Extremism and terrorism are major threats not only to India, but also to Pakistan, and all its other neighbours. It is in our collective interest that we resolutely oppose, resist and overcome terrorism and all those who nurture, sustain and give sanctuary to terrorists and extremist elements," Singh said.

Asked how the Kashmir issue be solved once and for all, the Prime Minister said India was "ready to discuss all issues with them (Pakistan) in an atmosphere free from terrorism."

He noted that Jammu and Kashmir and its people have repeatedly suffered due to terrorism from across the border.

"This has militated against the will of the people of the state, who have time and again voted in large numbers in democratic elections to unambiguously reject violence," he said.

Singh said the government has taken several measures for the development of Jammu and Kashmir, and for its people to live in peace and harmony, as in the rest of the country.

The government's decision to have Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan after a 14-month break caused by the Mumbai terror strike has come under sharp attack from the Opposition BJP.

To a separate question on welfare of Indians living in the Gulf region, Singh today said steps are being taken to ensure better regulation of the recruitment process.

He said welfare of Indians living in the Gulf region was a matter of "high priority" for his Government and some steps have already been taken to address their grievances.

"At the Indian end, we are in the process of reforming our own procedures, including better regulation of the recruitment process," he told the Saudi journalists.

There are over five million Indian workers in the Gulf region out of which almost two million live and work in Saudi Arabia alone.

"We are extremely proud of the fact that the Indian community in the Gulf region has been contributing to the socio-economic development of the region. The welfare of such a large overseas Indian community is a matter of high priority for my government," Singh said.

The Prime Minister said the governments of several Gulf Cooperation Council countries have themselves set up mechanisms such as grievance redressal bodies and labour courts that are working closely with Indian officials.

"We have also put in place arrangements in all Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, to respond to workers' grievances," he said.

"These include a 24-hour helpline, temporary shelters, counselling centres, and strengthened Community Welfare Wings in our diplomatic missions," he said.

The Gulf region has been the preferred destination of most of the poor and lower middle class workers, who are prone to exploitation.