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Kashmir is integral part, but open to talks: PM

By Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar
October 10, 2008 22:23 IST
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While advocating good relations with Pakistan, Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh on Friday reiterated that borders cannot be changed.


"We cannot change the borders, we can make them irrelevant," Singh said, addressing a press conference in Srinagar after a marathon meeting with leaders of various mainstream parties at the heavily guarded centaur hotel.


Dr. Singh arrived in the state on a two-day visit Friday. Immediately after his arrival in Jammu, Singh proceeded to Chaderkote where he dedicated the 450 MW first phase of the 900 MW power project to the state.


The Prime Minister is scheduled to inaugurate the Anantnag-Srinagar-Rajwansher section of the rail link on Saturday.


"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."


"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 past few years," Dr Singh said.


The Prime Minister regretted that there had been loss of life and violence because of differences on a piece of land that was transferred to the Amarnath Shrine Board.


"It should not have happened. I express my sympathy with the friends and relatives of those who lost their lives in the violence. I feel sad that curfew had to be imposed on many occasions causing lot of problems to the people."


The Prime Minister said his government was ready to hold talks with any section of public opinion. "If any separatist group wants to meet us we are ready. I have already met them earlier. Kashmir is an integral part of India."


"The recent incidents in the state 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. We started a series of round table conferences and government will welcome dialogue with all sections of people."


"This also includes those who have so far opted out of the political process. I urge that whoever has complaints and grievances should forward for a dialogue."


He said the start of trade on the Srinagar Muzaffarabad and Poonch Rawalakote roads on October 21 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."


On whether the situation in the state was conducive for holding state assembly polls, Dr. Singh said, "In democracy elections are the way to test the popularity. Everyone should participate. Government will ensure free and fair elections. Ballot boxes should be the arbitrator of destiny."


Dr. Singh while replying a question on the global economic meltdown said that the Indian banks were adequately capitalised and RBI has taken certain steps.


He, however, admitted that "the capital outflow is affecting liquidity".

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Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar