"We will make every effort, whether we succeed or not, that only the future can tell"

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said India would be unable to realise its full development potential unless it had the “best possible” relations with its neighbours, especially Pakistan.

Addressing his first national conference marking the first anniversary of the United Progressive Alliance government's second term in office, the Prime Minister dwelt at length on the rationale for opening talks with Pakistan. In the seven questions on India-Pakistan ties posed to him, Dr. Singh explained the recent background, the inevitability of dialogue and the road ahead.

“The composite dialogue had been suspended soon after the attacks in Mumbai. Subsequently, the process has not moved forward. I am hopeful that this process can move forward. That was, at least, the message I got from talking to the Prime Minister of Pakistan [during their April 29 meeting on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Thimphu],'' he said.

Dr. Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had agreed that it would be impossible to hold substantive negotiations without adequately addressing the “major problem” of a trust deficit between the two countries. It was with this intention that they directed their Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries to hold talks, he explained when asked why India had agreed to resume talks with Pakistan.

The Prime Minister confessed that he did not really know whether his endeavour would succeed. “It is our obligation to make every effort to normalise relations with India's neighbours. That is essential, I have always believed, to realise [the] development potential of our country. We will make every effort, whether we succeed or not, that only the future can tell.''

On Kashmir, the Prime Minister reiterated his formulation about India willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan with the sole condition that its territory should not be utilised for spreading terror in India.

Asked to prioritise between double-digit economic growth and normalisation of relations with Pakistan, the Prime Minister said the government would like to work on both fronts — 10 per cent growth in the medium term as well as peace and amity in the neighbourhood. A better atmosphere through talks was being created because differences with Pakistan have to be reduced without surrendering vital national interest.

Headley access

The Prime Minister was confident of Indian investigators getting access to David Headley, suspected of having conducted surveillance of sites targeted during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. “I have been assured by the highest in the U.S. administration that we will get access to David Headley,” he said.

Dr. Singh said that for the nuclear agreement with the U.S. to move forward India would have to ensure that an effective nuclear liability compensation arrangement is in place. “We need this [liability law] if we have to become a major nuclear energy power; and for this reason we have sent a Bill to Parliament. I am convinced that this Bill will have the support of all political parties interested in India's growth, interested in ensuring that India's nuclear power programme moves forward.''

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