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India Willing to Talk with Militants - 2004-09-05

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed New Delhi's commitment to peace with Pakistan. He has also said his government would negotiate with any militant group willing to give up violence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the time has come to take measured steps to strengthen the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Singh was addressing a press conference to mark 100 days in office of the new Congress-led coalition government.

His comments came a day before the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers meet to discuss bilateral issues including their dispute over Kashmir. The meeting is part of a peace process the two South Asian rivals embarked upon in January. Since then, they have held talks on issues ranging from nuclear security to trade and terrorism.

Mr. Singh says what India and Pakistan have achieved so far is, in his words, not insignificant.

"It is our intention to carry forward the dialogue process," he said. "Even though I cannot say I have a path breaking statement to make, but progress has to be measured step by step. I think we will make progress in dealing with these complex issues."

India has been trying to dampen expectations of a quick breakthrough, while Pakistan has been urging a faster resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Mr. Singh says India's approach to talks with Pakistan will be based on realism and on the belief that all countries of South Asia are bound by a common destiny.

The Indian Prime Minister also offered to talk to any militant group willing to give up violence. Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989, and a host of militant groups are waging violent struggles for either independence or more autonomy in the northeast.

"We are not laying down any preconditions, and all groups, I repeat all groups whether they are in Jammu and Kashmir or in the northeast, they are welcome to talk to us," said Manmohan Singh. "Any group which shuns violence will find us ready to talk to them."

Mr. Singh said India wants to expand relations with China. He also says India is building up international support for a permanent seat for New Delhi on the United Nations Security Council.