As India and Pakistan get ready to restart peace talks after more than two years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says dialogue is the only way to resolve their differences. The embattled Indian leader is also vowing to tackle inflation and punish those guilty of corruption -- two issues which have put his government on the ropes at home.
Speaking to parliament Thursday, Prime Minister Singh said South Asia will not realize its potential unless India-Pakistan relations are normalized. India is willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, he said.
But, striking a cautious note, he expressed hope that Islamabad will give up allowing its territory to be used for terrorist activity directed at India.
"I sincerely hope and believe that the new ruling classes of Pakistan would grasp the hands of our friendship and recognize that whatever our differences, terror as an instrument of state policy, is something no civilized society ought to be using," he said. "I am not saying that we have today an atmosphere in which negotiations can go forward, but there are hopeful signs."
Earlier this month, both countries decided to restart a peace process, which New Delhi had put on hold after blaming Pakistan-based Islamic militants for mounting the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. The foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet in the Indian capital in March. Their foreign ministers are to meet by July.
Singh's comments on the peace talks with Pakistan came during an address to parliament, in which he outlined the priorities facing his government.
He pledged to lower inflation from 10 percent to seven percent by the end of the year. Food inflation is even higher and has emerged as a major worry in a country with millions of poor people.
Singh has promised to bring a new food security bill in parliament to ensure that poor people are protected from rising food prices.
Inflation has to be tackled in a manner that it does not hurt the economy, which the prime minister says is growing well.
"If we had a ham-handed [heavy] approach, we could have killed the growth process which is the only source of providing jobs for our youth. So, this delicate balance has to be preserved between control of inflation and protection of employment," he said.
The Indian leader also vowed to crack down on those guilty of corruption in connection with sale of telecom spectrum, in 2008, and the organization of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, last year. Allegations that officials siphoned off billions of dollars have put the spotlight on corrupt practices in government contracts.
With the two corruption scandals dominating headlines in recent months, Singh expressed fears that the wrong impression may be going out.
"The message should not go out that India is adrift, that India has lost its way, that the enthusiasm for getting this country moving forward is something that is no longer in evidence," he said.
The Congress-led government was voted back to power in 2009, but is facing a rising wave of discontent both becauseof high food prices and the high-profile graft scandals.