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PM sticks to path of peace
- East to west, Singh refuses to be provoked

Imphal & Guwahati, Nov. 21: Manmohan Singh is claiming for himself the mantle of a pacifist Prime Minister, with a message from a John Lennon song for all those who care to hear on both India's western and eastern borders and inside conflict-ridden states: 'Give peace a chance'.

The Prime Minister has staunchly refused to respond with threat for threat, either to President Pervez Musharraf's harking back to the extreme position of a plebiscite in Kashmir, or to rigid deadlines set by political outfits in the Northeast to scrap harsh laws.

Through the course of the week just past, on his tours of Kashmir and the Northeast ' he returns to New Delhi tomorrow evening ' Singh is consistently pushing the peace envelope: if it is Pakistan, he is expressing a determination to continue with the composite dialogue; in Manipur, he has ordered a review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and in Assam today he appealed to the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) to shun the gun because 'you now have a Prime Minister from amongst you who shares your dream of a resurgent Assam'.

Responding to Musharraf's statement made yesterday that India was not being flexible enough, Singh said: 'Flexibility does not come from stray words. We have to work out a sustainable way to bring peace in South Asia. The Pakistan Prime Minister (Shaukat Aziz) is coming (to Delhi) the day after tomorrow. We will discuss.'

Musharraf had made the statement following Singh's remarks in Srinagar earlier in the week that Delhi cannot consider redrawing or re-demarcating boundaries. But that was followed by an explanation from the Indian establishment that it was seeking a resolution of the Kashmir dispute despite borders and beyond borders by promoting an intensive exchange in trade, commerce and travel.

Musharraf had alleged that India's withdrawal of some troops from Kashmir was 'cosmetic'. 'All I can say,' the Prime Minister repeated, 'is that we are very serious about the composite dialogue going ahead'.

Singh also spoke on India's ties with its neighbours in the east ' Myanmar and Bangladesh ' and emphasised that Delhi cannot wish away neighbours and will contend with them pragmatically.

Seeking to assuage tempers in Manipur, the Prime Minister said: 'It is my sincere desire to find credible ways and means while protecting the interests of national security and safeguarding the fundamental human rights of our citizens.'

In Assam, the Prime Minister digressed from his written speech to make a direct appeal to the Ulfa.

'I appeal to you to shun the gun because you now have a Prime Minister from your own state who shares your dream of a new, resurgent Assam.'

Singh has been elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam.

He said there had been some overtures for talks. 'Our government is willing to talk to any group which shuns the path of violence.'

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