India is open to dialogue with Pakistan on all outstanding issues but in an environment free of violence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, in comments that could breathe fresh life into frozen ties between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Ties went into a freeze after the Pakistani envoy in New Delhi held meetings with the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders last year despite being by the Indian foreign ministry not to do so.
Since then, the two sides have taken tentative steps towards a possible resumption in dialogue, with Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar visiting Islamabad last month for talks with his Pakistani counterpart.
"We remain open to bilateral dialogue with Pakistan on all outstanding issues in an environment free from terrorism and violence," Modi told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview .
"The Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration have to be the basis for going forward," he said, referring to two crucial governance treaties agreed between the troubled neighbours to normalise relations and curb a nuclear arms race in South Asia.
Modi signalled his desire to build bridges with the neighbouring country when he invited South Asian leaders, including his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration last year. He followed it up with his 'sari-and-shawl' diplomacy with Sharif, which rekindled hopes that the détente was well-intentioned.
But Islamabad's dalliance with Hurriyat leaders sent ties downhill.
"Peace can only thrive when the climate is right," Modi said, when asked when the bilateral dialogue could resume.
Tentative discussions between India and Pakistan do not have a record of success, and the slow progress of the trial into the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, have fed fears in India that Pakistan is not serious about acting against militant groups on its soil.
Islamabad, which is fighting the Pakistan Taliban and other groups on its soil, says it is doing all it can and says New Delhi must provide evidence to back its accusations.
Modi also spoke on his pro-active engagement with India's South Asian neighbours, ties that had drifted under the previous UPA government, sparking fears that such apathy would send these nations into China's arms.
Over the past months, the prime minister has undertaken visits to several of these countries, seeking to reinvigorate relationships crucial to India retaining its pre-eminence in South Asia and pushing back any attempts by China to make inroads into the region.
"We want peace and prosperity in South Asia, we want SAARC to flourish. This vision of regional cooperation and connectivity impelled me to invite the prime minister of Pakistan and other SAARC leaders to our swearing-in-ceremony," Modi said.
"This remains a guiding factor in our foreign policy. The dividends are visible in the quantum leap in relations with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. But peace cannot co-exist with terrorism, can it?"
EXCERPTS FROM THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW:
ON TROUBLES FACED BY THE PDP-BJP ALLIANCE IN KASHMIR
I myself and my party have made our stand very clear that any lenience towards anti-national elements and terrorists will not be acceptable.However, we should not forget the larger picture. The alliance in Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most important developments on the contemporary political scene.
ON DELHI POLLS
We respect the verdict of the people of Delhi. However, I find it amusing to hear that those who did not talk about a 'Modi wave' in the context of the outcome of the 2014 general elections are now engaged in intense discussion regarding the 'Modi wave'.
ON EASE OF DOING BUSINESS
A) I would request the media to counterpose two things together: The allegations our Congress friends level against us, and the complaints that businessmen have. The Congress says we are a government of industrialists and industrialists say we do nothing for them!
B) My government is working for the common man. Our priority is the poor of the country. We want good governance through a dynamic and seamless government.
ON CONGRESS CHARGE OF NOT BEING PRO-POOR
A) In the 60-year rule of the Congress, the poor of this country have remained poor or have become poorer. Many countries of the world have surpassed us on all counts, including poverty alleviation. The Congress did incremental work so as to keep the issue relevant for the next elections. And then, they bring some dramatic legislation just when the elections are around, and project that they are pro-poor.
B) The worry of the Opposition, especially the Congress is not that we are not pro-poor. Their worry is that they are being exposed. People are asking them, "If the Modi government can think and do this in six to nine months, why you could not think and do it in 60 years?" The reason is simple - they would have waited for an election for a fraction of each one of them.
ON LPG SUBSIDY
The culture of our country is that of giving; not of cornering something which belongs to others. Thus, I am appealing to people who are well off.
ON THE JUDICIARY
I would not like to analyse the judiciary, the experts should look at it. There have been instances where the judiciary's initiative has resulted in a good outcome and there have been instances when it has resulted in pain.
ON THE GOVERNMENT'S ACHIEVEMENTS
A) We have taken a series of measures which have restored faith in our capacity to deliver with transparency, efficiency and speed. We are looking at the interest of the poor of the country and their empowerment.
B) Good governance with good intentions is the hallmark of our government. Implementation with integrity is our core passion.
C) The recent conclusion of auction in coal and spectrum establishes that the curse of scam and corruption is avoidable and transparency possible if there is political will.
D) We have restored the global credibility of India in terms of its politics, governance and economy. This is because the growth of the economy has been restored. We have left behind countries like China in terms of our GDP growth. We have left behind the US in terms of steel production.
ON UPCOMING VISIT TO FRANCE, GERMANY, CANADA
I like to combine visits to more than one place when I go on my international tours in order to get more done. I'm from Ahmedabad where we have a saying, 'single-fare, double journey'. These three countries are major economies that have great relevance to our development process and growth.
I had also said that the eight states of the Northeast are the Ashta Lakshmi for the country as they have huge potential. This region can contribute a lot in the development of the whole
More from the interview: