Manmohan Singh calls on Pakistan to ‘destroy’ militants

WANPOH: Pakistan must ‘destroy’ militant groups operating on its soil, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday during a visit to the disputed region of Kashmir.

With security tightened across the Kashmir valley for his trip, Singh also reiterated his government’s willingness to hold talks with all political parties in the region, including separatist groups opposed to Indian rule.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over divided Kashmir and Singh said it was time for Islamabad to wipe out the militants.

‘It is the solemn duty of the government of Pakistan to bring them to book, to destroy their camps and to eliminate their infrastructure,’ he said at a ceremony to inaugurate a railway line in the southern Kashmiri district of Anantnag.

‘They should destroy these groups wherever they are operating and for whatever misguided purpose,’ he said.

If Pakistan takes the necessary action, India ‘will not be found wanting in our response,’ Singh promised, offering talks on issues ranging from trade to divided families and prisoner swaps.

A 20-year insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir, which New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming and abetting, has claimed more than 47,000 lives.

The levels of violence have declined sharply in the Muslim-majority region following the launch of a peace process by India and Pakistan in 2004.

But India suspended the dialogue in the wake of last year’s attacks on Mumbai which were blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Insisting that ‘the era of violence and terrorism is coming to an end’ in Kashmir, Singh said his government was ready for a dialogue with all shades of political opinion.

‘We are willing to talk to anyone who has any meaningful ideas for promoting peace and development,’ he said during the speech in the company of the president of India’s ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.

Separatists had called for a general strike against Singh’s visit, which came a day after the Kashmir valley closed down to protest against the start of Indian rule on October 27, 1947.

Special commandos were deployed in Anantnag and roads were sealed off in Srinagar where Singh was to hold talks with officials later in the day.

Earlier this month, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said any talks would take the form of ‘quiet diplomacy and quiet dialogue’ that would be held outside the glare of the media.

The offer was hailed by moderate separatists as a ‘step forward’ but rejected by hardliners, who insist New Delhi should declare Kashmir as a disputed territory and pull out troops before the start of negotiations.

The last talks between separatists and New Delhi were held in 2006.

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