Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday reached out to separatists in Jammu & Kashmir and made a renewed effort to resume talks with Pakistan, but with a caveat — Islamabad must rein in anti-India terror groups operating from its soil.
Separatists would also have to abjure violence, Singh said, as he inaugurated a 18-kilometre rail link to strengthen connectivity within Kashmir valley.
“I appeal to Pakistan to strengthen the hand of friendship we have extended. It is in the interest of people of both nations,” Singh said.
Wednesday’s appeal marks the second attempt by the prime minister to revive the peace dialogue with Pakistan, after the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai forced the Indian government to suspend the talks.
India blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Lashkar-e- Tayyeba.
Singh, however, set conditions, asking Pakistan to crack down on terror groups such as Lashkar, “to destroy their camps and to eliminate their infrastructure”.
If such action is taken, India “will not be found wanting in response,” he said, offering to discuss issues ranging from trade to divided families and prisoner swaps.
There was no immediate response from Pakistan.
Inaugurating the Kashmir rail link in Anantnag, 55 kilometers south of Srinagar, Singh also had a message for separatist leaders in the valley.
“I wish to say again today that 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 & Kashmir,” he said.
There was no bulletproof glass screen separating the Prime Minister – and others who shared the stage, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee.
This, Abdullah later said, was a pointer to the improving security situation in the state.
The prime minister also reached out to Kashmiri youth. "I appeal to the youth of Kashmir to join in building a new Kashmir. I understand their frustration,” Singh said.
However, in an indication that resolution of the issue will not be easy, several separatist groups called for and enforced a strike in Srinagar and large parts of the valley. There were reports of sporadic clashes between protesters and the police.
“The shutdown conveys to the Indian prime minister that people reject the dialogue offer unless India withdraws its troops, releases prisoners, repeals impunity laws and accepts Kashmir as an international dispute," Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the hardline leader of All Party Hurriyat Conference, told AP.
Thousands of armed paramilitary troops and police in flak jackets were spread out across the state. Troops closed off roads with razor wire and installed jammers to block mobile phone signals in areas he was supposed to visit.