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New Delhi, May 24, 2010
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today asserted that India and Pakistan must first bridge the trust deficit between them before they could engage in a substantive dialogue with each other and solve various issues that have bedevilled ties between the two countries.
"Pakisan is our neighbour. It is my firm belief that India cannot realise its full development potential unless it has good relations with all its neighbours," Dr Singh said at a press conference held here this morning to mark the completion of the first year of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government's second five-year term in power.
Dr Singh pointed out that Pakistan was India's largest neighbour and said there were problems between the two countries.
"It has been my effort to reduce the gap between our two countries without surrendering or affecting our vital interests," he said.
He said he was convinced that the major problem between the two countries and the main reason why they had not made any headway in their Composite Dialogue was the lack of adequate trust between them.
"There is a trust deficit and unless we tackle it we cannot make substantive progress in the dialogue between the two countries," he said.
Dr Singh said it should be the common endeavour of both countries to reduce the trust deficit between them. He said he made this clear to Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, when they met recently in Thimphu, Bhutan, and that is why they had decided to ask their Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries to meet to work out ways of reducing the trust deficit.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is due to meet his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad on July 15 in pursuance of that decision.
The Prime Minister said India was willing to discuss all oustanding issues with Pakistan. "The only condition is that Pakistani territory should not be used for terrorism against India," he said.
He said the meeting between Mr Krishna and Mr Qureshi would mark a beginning in the effort to improve the relations betweeen the two countries after India had suspended the Composite Dialogue process in the wake of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. As many as 166 people were killed in the attacks.
India blamed the attacks on elements based in Pakistan and has been insisting that Pakistan should bring those responsible for the horrific crime to justice and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil that is used for attacks on this country.
"This will the first major effort to deal with the underlying cause of the problems between the two countries," he said.
To a question about whether he thought the talks would succeed, Dr Singh said it was the Government's obligation to make every effort to normalise relations with all of India's neighbours. "Whether we succeed or not, future events will tell," he remarked.
In a prepared statement on his Government's acheivements in the first year of its second term, the Prime Minister said that, in foreign policy, it was a matter of satisfaction that India had been able to improve relations with all major powers.
"As a member of the Group of Twenty (G-20), our views are increasingly sought and heard. The world looks at India with confidence," he said.
Dr Singh said the recent SAARC Summit in Bhutan had once again underlined the fact that it was not just their shared past but also their shared future that bound the sub-continent together.
"Improving relations with neighbours continues to be of great importance to us. I have often said that our real challenges are at home and in our neighbourhood," he said.
At the largely-attended press conference, his first in the capital in four years and held in Vigyan Bhavan, the Prime Minister answered questions on a variety oftopics, from terrorism and Naxalism, to the economy and inflation, corruption and the 2G spectrum controversy, and on Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and his relations with Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Dr Singh said the Government was determined to squarely tackle the threat of terrorism and ideological extremism of various kinds, including Naxalism.
"We are working on systemic changes in our national security system, paying due attention to the modernization and professional development of the police and security forces, investigating agencies and the law and order machinery. Judicial reform and transparency in the functioning of government will also receive priority in our agenda," he said.
Asked if the Government had underestimated the threat posed by Naxalism, he said that, on the contrary, he had been saying for more than three years now that Naxalites posed the biggest internal security challenge to India. "To say that we underestimated the magnitude of the problem is not correct," he said.
He said it was important to control Naxalism to ensure the country's progress and was confident that all States and the Centre would work together to tackle this menace.
He said terrorism was also a major national security issue and said the Government was determined to tackle it, irrespective of its source. "Terrorism has no religion," he said, in response to a question about the so-called Hindu terror groups.
In this context, to a question about the delay in deciding on the mercy petition of Afzal Guru, the man sentenced to death in the case relating to the terrorist attack on Parliament, he said the law of the land must be allowed to run its course in such matters.
On his planned visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Singh said it was planned for reviewing the implementation of development programmes in the state. He said he would hold discussions with the State Government on ways of accelerating these programmes.
He used the opportunity to once again appeal to all groups in Jammu and Kashmir to shun violence and come forward for talks.
In reply to a question, he said the Government had a policy of "zero tolerance" in respect of human rights violations by security forces in the state and elsewhere.
About different opinions aired by his Ministers on various issues in public, Dr Singh said that, while it was health to have such debates and diverse views in a democracy of more than one billion people, it would be better if his colleagues voiced their thoughts at meetings of the Union Cabinet.
"I am pleased to tell you that the Cabinet, in the last six years, met almost every week. So, Ministers have plenty of opportunities to express their views," he said.
On the civil nuclear issue, he said India must have a comprehensive compensation arrangement if it wanted to become a major nuclear power and hoped the Bill in this regard would receive support from all political parties in Parliament.
"I am sure that all political parties interested in India's growth, interested in India's nuclear programme, will support it," he remarked.
About the proposal to include details of caste in the ongoing Census 2011, Dr Singh said he had already assured Parliament that he would take into account the views expressed by Members on the subject and place them before the Cabinet for a decision. "That process is on," he said.