|Kashmiri women pray during the Milad-un-Nabi celebrations at Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar on Friday. (AFP)
Jakarta, April 22: India today expressed hope that if the peace process with Pakistan is allowed to continue for some time, it could lead to a 'conducive atmosphere' for the 'final settlement' of the Kashmir dispute.
'If this process is allowed to move forward, we will be able to create a conducive atmosphere for the final settlement,' Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. He was speaking to the media on board his special aircraft on his way to Jakarta.
'We have charted a course of action which will produce substantial results in the months and years to come,' he said.
This is the first time the Prime Minister has spoken about a 'final settlement', an expression that made an appearance in the joint statement issued at the end of the recent talks with General Pervez Musharraf.
Having agreed to steps that would help in the creation of a 'soft border', the Pakistani side had wanted the statement to include the words 'final settlement' to convey India's commitment to arriving at a resolution.
Singh made a statement on the Pakistan President's 'friendly visit' that ended on Monday, but did not speak of a final settlement.
It is not clear yet whether these are the first signals of India's willingness to look beyond a 'soft border' to settle the dispute. But there are clear indications that Delhi is satisfied with the Pakistani leadership's commitment to the peace process.
Musharraf's unambiguous remarks that he would not allow terrorist acts to 'impede' the peace process ' also a part of the joint statement ' would have helped create confidence in the Indian establishment about Islamabad's intentions.
Singh iterated that 'territorial disputes' could not be resolved overnight. Instead, he spoke of the need to take steps that could lessen the miseries of the people living on the two sides of the Line of Control by ensuring easier travel, cross-border trade and other exchanges.
'I don't know where it will lead us or when. But this way of looking at a problem is a win-win for the people of India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris,' the Prime Minister added.
Singh said he was 'very pleased' with the outcome of his talks with Musharraf. 'I have a sincere desire to work with President Musharraf and carry forward the peace process in the months ahead.'
Asked what the biggest gains from the talks were, the Prime Minister said: 'Improvement of relations with Pakistan was uppermost in my mind. I am glad the sentiment was reciprocated by President Musharraf.'
Indian officials have said two things would be important in the coming months for the peace process to move forward. One, whether terrorist activities and violence escalate in the summer months. Two, how seriously Pakistan implements the agreed steps for greater people-to-people contact.
In the past, Islamabad has often dragged its feet on confidence-building measures.
Singh did strike a note of caution. 'There are risks. Extremist and terrorist elements are not fully under control.'