| Singh flags off the bus service in Amritsar as Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh (left) and deputy chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (third from left) look on. (AFP)
March 24: The Prime Minister today offered Pakistan a “treaty of peace, security and friendship” and suggested Kashmiris from both sides should work jointly to solve the region’s social and economic problems.
Manmohan Singh praised President Pervez Musharraf’s “bold” steps to curb extremism in his speech, which Islamabad was quick to welcome as “reflecting positive sentiments”.
“I have a vision that the peace-making process must ultimately culminate in our two countries entering into a treaty of peace, security and friendship to give meaning and substance to our quest for shared goals,” Singh said.
“Instead of looking at each other as adversaries, we must have the courage to see each as supporting the other,” the Prime Minister declared as he flagged off the Punj-Aab Express, a bus service linking Amritsar to Guru Nanak’s birthplace, Nankana Sahib, in Pakistan.
Although Singh said it was a “mistake” on the part of Islamabad to link normalisation of ties with a solution to the Kashmir dispute, he added that Delhi was “not afraid of discussing Jammu and Kashmir or of finding pragmatic, practical solutions”.
The Prime Minister advocated a “step-by-step” approach on Kashmir. He suggested Delhi and Islamabad start a dialogue with the Kashmiris on their side of the Line of Control to “improve the quality of governance so as to give the people on both sides a greater chance of leading a life of dignity and self-respect”.
Reiterating India’s position that boundaries cannot be redrawn, he called for making the LoC “irrelevant” by opening the border for free movement of people and goods.
“I also envisage a situation where the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir can, with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan, work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms so as to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of region,” Singh added.
In Islamabad, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said: “The Prime Minister’s remarks... reflect some positive sentiments. He has also acknowledged the need to move forward on the resolution of Kashmir and other issues.”
But Singh said a solution to Kashmir hinged on an important factor: “I and General Musharraf have agreed that it is necessary to keep firm control over terrorism.'General Musharraf has taken bold steps to curb extremism and I compliment him for that. But more needs to be done.”
The Prime Minister hinted that solutions to three issues ' Siachen, Sir Creek and Baglihar ' were in sight. This raised hopes that they could be clinched by July-August, when the third round of the composite dialogue ends, with Singh travelling to Islamabad for the occasion.
Singh said the bus service would allow Sikhs of India and Pakistan to visit their holy shrines in each others’ countries. “My heart swells with pride to launch this bus service. It is an emotional day for every Sikh. And for me too.”
The bus arrived at Nankana Sahib after a three-hour journey to be received by Pakistan’s religious affairs minister Ijaz-ul-Haq.