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Indian Prime Minister Makes New Peace Overtures to Pakistan


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for a treaty of peace and friendship with Pakistan. The overture aims at injecting fresh momentum into a flagging peace initiative between the two nuclear powers.

Just before a new bus service got under way between the Indian city of Amritsar and the Pakistani city of Nanakana Sahib, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid out his vision for future relations between the South Asian rivals.

He expressed the hope that the two countries will replace decades of animosity with a "treaty of peace, security and friendship". He also urged Islamabad to reciprocate, saying such a pact could give new substance to a common quest for progress.

Mr. Singh was speaking in Amritsar to a large crowd, which had gathered to witness the launch of the bus service that will link two of Sikhism's holiest shrines.

The Indian leader reiterated New Delhi's firm commitment to the peace process that began between the neighbors more than two years ago. Tensions have eased since then, but Pakistan accuses India of dragging its feet in solving their core dispute over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which both countries claim.

Responding to those accusations, Mr. Singh said he is "not afraid" of finding a practical, pragmatic solution to the Kashmir issue. He wants both countries to work toward making the disputed border "irrelevant - just lines on the map."

The Indian Prime Minister also urged Pakistan not to link normalization of relations on other fronts to the Kashmir issue.

Mr. Singh praised Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's efforts in fighting terror, saying there is a growing recognition in both countries that "terrorism is the enemy of civilized societies." But he urged the Pakistani leader to do even more to clamp down on violent extremism.

Relations between the neighbors have been embittered for years over New Delhi's accusations that Islamabad supports Islamic militant groups waging an insurgency in Indian Kashmir.

Pakistan welcomed the Indian leader's statement, saying it reflected many positive sentiments and underlined the need to solve the Kashmir dispute. A foreign ministry spokesman in Islamabad said both countries need to take "bold steps" to overcome the legacy of the past.

In New Delhi, analysts expressed hope that Mr. Singh's overtures will breathe new life into a peace process that many critics say has been flagging.

The two countries have opened new transport links to ease the situation for divided families in border regions, a ceasefire along the Kashmir border has been holding, and trade ties are improving. But thousands of troops continue to be massed along the frontier in Kashmir, the cause of two wars between the rival nations.

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