March 24, 2006

Indian PM wants peace pact with Pakistan

AMRITSAR, India (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh called on Friday for a "treaty of peace, security and
friendship" with Pakistan that would replace decades of
hostility with a common quest for progress.

"The time has come to leave behind the animosities and the
misgivings of the past and to think the unthinkable of moving
together in pursuit of our common objective of getting rid of
chronic poverty, ignorance and disease," Singh said.

"I make this offer to the people of Pakistan on this
historic occasion," Singh said in the northern Indian Sikh holy
city of Amritsar before inaugurating a new bus service between
the two countries.

"I am sure the leadership of Pakistan will reciprocate."

Singh said India was committed to the peace process, adding
that it could bring enormous economic benefits to the people of
both sides. And there was a growing recognition in both
countries that "terrorism is an enemy of civilized societies."

"General (Pervez) Musharraf has taken concrete steps to
curb terrorism and I compliment him for that. But more needs to
be done in the interest of both India and Pakistan," Singh
said, referring to the Pakistani president.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militants
fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, the cause of two of three wars
between the neighbors. More than 45,000 people have died since
the Kashmir revolt broke out in 1989, Indian officials say.

Pakistan welcomed Singh's comments.

"We believe the speech reflects many positive sentiments
and a strong acknowledgement of the need to move forward on
Jammu and Kashmir and other issues," Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in Islamabad.

The bus service links the holiest site of the Sikh
religion, Amritsar and its Golden Temple, with Nankana Sahib in
Pakistan, the birthplace of the religion's founder, Guru Nanak.

Singh, a Sikh, called it another step on the road to peace
between the nuclear-armed rivals, and a day of hope for the
divided state of Punjab, scene of hundreds of thousands of
deaths during the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

"Punjab has seen many years of waste and violence. But the
past is behind us," Singh said.

Sikhs dressed in loose satin clothes and colorful turbans
danced to the beat of drums as the bus set off. The
gold-painted vehicle was draped in marigolds and decorated with
the flags of India and Pakistan.


Relations between India and Pakistan have improved since
peace talks were launched in 2004 but there has been little
progress in solving their core dispute over Kashmir.

Singh said it was a mistake for Pakistan to link
normalization of other relations to finding a solution to the
dispute over the Himalayan region.

"But we are not afraid of discussing Jammu and Kashmir or
of finding pragmatic, practical solutions to resolve this issue
as well," he said, recommending a step-by-step approach.

Singh said both sides should begin a dialogue with people
in the parts of Kashmir they control, and work toward making
borders redundant by allowing people to move freely across

"It is a good proposal but how can you have such a treaty
without settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute?," asked
former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz A. Naik. "Now it is for
our side to explore back channel contacts to ascertain what
proposals he has in mind to make this treaty."

But Singh's words received a lukewarm welcome from Kashmir
and the head of the moderate wing of the separatist All Parties
Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. He told Reuters much
more was needed than confidence-building measures.

"If the prime minister is sincere he should announce
demilitarization in Kashmir, stop human rights violations and
find a solution of the problem in accordance with the wishes of
the people of Jammu and Kashmir," Farooq said.

(Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in SRINAGAR and
Zeeshan Haider in ISLAMABAD)