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Indian PM Defends Engagement with Pakistan


India's Prime Minister says Pakistan's pledge to fight terrorism should be trusted, but its actions need to be verified. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh notes some cooperation with Islamabad on the investigation into last year's terror attack on Mumbai, but says it has not gone far enough. The Indian leader finds himself on the political defensive, resulting from his recent engagement with Pakistan's leaders.

Mr. Singh says unless his country wants to go to war again, it has no option but to engage its neighbor and long-time rival in dialog. Speaking to his Parliament, Manmohan Singh said it is in India's interest to directly talk with Pakistan, rather than going through third parties.

"I hope and pray that the leadership in Pakistan will have the strength and the courage to defeat those who want to destroy, not just peace between India and Pakistan, but the future of South Asia," he said.

The remarks were part of a rebuttal to criticism here of a joint statement with Pakistan issued two weeks ago on the sidelines of an international summit in Egypt. There has also been a perceived lack of enthusiasm for the document among members of Mr. Singh's Congress Party.

The joint statement said India and Pakistan would battle terrorism without linking such efforts to peace talks concerning the disputed Kashmir region.

That has prompted a personal attack on Mr. Singh by opposition parties.

A senior leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Yashwant Sinha, who spoke in Parliament before Mr. Singh, termed the declaration in Egypt a "surrender" and said the Indian prime minister has "walked into the Pakistani camp."

"All the waters of Neptune will not wash away the shame of [the joint statement in] Sharm-el-Sheikh," he said.

The document was also interpreted by some as an acknowledgment by India of meddling in Pakistan's Balochistan Province.

The Pakistani government has long accused India of financing Baloch nationalists and encouraging them to create trouble in the large, but mostly undeveloped province. India's government denies such activities.

In his remarks to Parliament, Mr. Singh said he is willing to discuss Balochistan and any other concern Islamabad has, because, as he told Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, India has nothing to hide.

"I told him that we have no interest whatsoever in destabilizing Pakistan nor do we harbor any ill intent toward Pakistan," added Mr. Singh.

The prime minister added that a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan, living in peace with its neighbor, is in India's own interest.

The peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad has been on hold since last November's terrorist attack on the Indian commercial capital, Mumbai. A group of well-trained and heavily armed militants from Pakistan are blamed for the assault in which more than 160 people died.

India and Pakistan have been rivals, and have fought several wars against each other, since Britain ended its rule and partitioned the subcontinent in 1947.

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