10 Oct : The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressed a Press Conference in Srinagar today. Following are the opening remarks of the Prime Minister at the Press Conference:
“It is always a pleasure to come to Kashmir and meet you. But there is a tinge of sadness this time because of the recent incidents of violence in J&K which have caused concern to all of us. The Amarnath pilgrimage is a matter of pride for us. It is a shining example of religious harmony. It represents one of the finest examples of our composite culture where Hindu pilgrims have been looked after by their Muslim brothers for hundreds of years. It is regrettable that there was violence because of differences on a piece of land that was transferred to the Amarnath Shrine Board. I had expressed this concern in my Independence Day speech also.
I express my sympathy with the friends and relatives of those who lost their lives in the violence. I also feel sad that curfew had to be imposed on many occasions causing a lot of problems to the people. But it was necessary to do so to prevent violence and loss of life and property.
The recent incidents in J&K show that there is some resentment towards the Government among a section of the youth here on certain issues. It has always been our belief that even the most difficult issues can be resolved through dialogue. This is the reason why we started a series of round table conferences. The Government will welcome dialogue with all sections of people. This also includes those who have so far opted to stay out of the political process. I urge that whoever has complaints and grievances should come forward for a dialogue. At an appropriate stage, I would also be happy to meet such people.
Our intention is that the future of Kashmir should be socially, economically and politically bright. I want to assure the people of J&K that we will honour all our commitments to the State as we have been doing in the past. We will ensure that the special identity of this state and its people is kept intact.
In the last four and a half years of our government, we have consistently sought to restore normalcy and peace in Jammu and Kashmir so that the tasks of development could be accelerated. It is a matter of satisfaction that the reconstruction programme of Rs 24,000 crore of 67 projects is well under way with 19 projects being completed one of which has been the Baglihar project that I inaugurated today.
Our effort has been to build the socio-economic infrastructure of the state to make Jammu and Kashmir realize its economic potential. Infrastructure has been considerably improved with investments in roads, railways and airline connectivity. The hydropower potential of the state is being harnessed through major projects. Two national institutions of academic excellence, an Indian Institute of Management and a Central University will be set up in the state in the 11th plan. Srinagar and Jammu medical colleges are to be upgraded to the level of All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Steps have also been taken to promote tourism which has great potential in the state.
Good relations with Pakistan, our very important neighbour to the North are an essential part of our policy. My vision of India-Pakistan relations is that both countries situate their bilateral relations in a cooperative framework of mutual understanding. We seek the normalization of our relations with Pakistan, a solution of all issues that cause estrangement, including Jammu and Kashmir through dialogue and peaceful negotiations in an atmosphere free of violence. While we cannot change borders, we can make them irrelevant. When I met President Zardari in New York recently, I invited Pakistan to work with us to usher in a new era of sub-continental cooperation.
When I inaugurated the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service in April 2005, I had said that this is the first step on a long road of peace. The road ahead is difficult but if we persevere and remain committed we will find solutions to all issues in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. Notwithstanding the many difficulties which have come, we have taken several steps. The start of trade on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot roads on 21st October is a major initiative that has been taken. History will judge how big these steps were. The fact is that they have taken place after many lost decades of mutual recrimination, violence and war.
There are real winds of change in the subcontinent today. Economics, technology and travel are altering older mindsets of suspicion, fear and hostility. It is undeniable that much has changed between India and Pakistan in the past few years. Trade, people to people contact, cultural exchanges and most of all the desire to move on are altering the landscape of our relationship. I would like the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir to be part of this wider process. If both India and Pakistan approach issues with a view to establishing a cooperative framework and with an open and friendly mind, we will be able to put the past behind us. It is this that will lay the basis for enduring peace and prosperity in the future. Within this framework, borders become doors to cooperation as we shun violence, condemn terrorism and embrace the spirit of a new approach to bilateral relations.”