Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's latest remarks on the peace process with Pakistan and his suggestions on the practical steps needed to move towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute represent a major new political and diplomatic initiative by New Delhi. The venue was Amritsar and the occasion the launch of a new bus service to the Sikh holy shrine of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. Dr. Singh said he did not agree that progress on other issues had to be linked to a settlement on Kashmir, but this did not mean India was afraid of discussing or finding 'pragmatic, practical solutions' to that issue as well. He then made two suggestions. The first was that both sides should begin a dialogue with the people in their areas of control 'to improve the quality of governance' and give people on both sides 'a greater chance of leading a life of dignity and self-respect.' The second was that the governments of India and Pakistan should encourage the 'two parts of Jammu and Kashmir' to 'work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms so as to maximise the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region.' This is the first time the Government of India has spoken officially of the need for cross-border institutional and administrative mechanisms that can link Kashmiris across the Line of Control. A fact of life in once-disputed regions such as South Tyrol, cross-LoC arrangements would allow borders which everyone agrees cannot be redrawn gradually to become irrelevant. Territorial, juridical sovereignties would remain intact, of course, but these would not be allowed to come in the way of people in the region moving and trading freely.
If these proposals show a willingness to engage with Pakistan directly in finding the kind of 'out of the box' solutions President Musharraf has been speaking about, Dr. Singh took yet another step forward to establish the seriousness of the new opening he was making. He indicated that his government would like to reach a 'meaningful agreement' with Pakistan on the issues of Siachen, Sir Creek, and Baglihar. Two of these three issues figure in the ongoing composite dialogue process but progress has been slow. This is not the first time Dr. Singh has spoken of the need to find a quick solution to the Siachen dispute; he must now exercise firm political leadership to clinch the matter. His remarks were also significant for their tone and tenor. In language reminiscent of the joint statement of April 2005, terrorism figured not as a stick to beat Pakistan with but as a shared concern. He complimented General Musharraf on the 'bold steps' he had taken to curb extremism but added that more needed to be done in the interest of both India and Pakistan. If the composite dialogue process is to show more significant results than new bus and train services, the Prime Minister's remarks open up exciting possibilities for concrete movement in a number of areas, including Kashmir. The road to peace, he noted, is made by walking. He must lead boldly from the front to ensure the journey is completed.