Indian PM “open to talks”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Jammu and Kashmir for a dialogue Monday, stressing they have achieved some success. The PM also warned that security forces would deal with armed insurgents in Kashmir with an 'iron hand'.

While making it clear that terrorists have never been the friends of the people of Kashmir, Singh said "as long as they continue their terrorist attacks, our Armed Forces will be alert and give them a fitting response.

Speaking from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on the occasion of the 58th Independence Day, the Prime Minister said Jammu and Kashmir was once again "on the path of peace and progress.

"It is our humanitarian obligation that we assist the State in all possible ways so that the people there can live in peace and harmony," he was quoted as saying by Deccan Herald.

"The composite dialogue process with Pakistan is continuing," he said of peace talks which began in January 2004 and aim to resolve all differences, including the festering dispute over Kashmir.

"As a result, we have been able to reopen the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway which was a long-pending demand of the people and restarted the bus service on this route, a step which has been widely welcomed."

Singh also said talks with Pakistan on the import of natural gas from Iranian oilfields are progressing well.

"Discussions are also going on a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. Once this is completed, we will be able to address a major constraint affecting our economy," he said.

The prime minister, however, urged Pakistan to end its alleged support for militancy in Kashmir.

"The government of Pakistan has placed some restrictions on the insurgents but success does not come through half-measures and it is important the terror infrastructure is dismantled (by Pakistan) from its roots," Singh was quoted as saying by Forbes.

The prime minister said India is open to talks with all parties involved in the Kashmir conflict but will not tolerate violence.

"I have said earlier and I repeat again that there is no issue which cannot be resolved through talks," he said in his 90-minute address.

New Delhi has earlier said negotiations were possible with separatists provided they first laid down their arms, Forbes reminds.

"But if violence continues, then our security forces will reply with an iron hand," he warned.

"In this conflict, there may be some civilian casualties but we are determined to restore normality," he said as a blast shook a stadium in Kashmir's summer capital of Srinagar just before the start of Independence Day celebrations there.

Police said there was no damage and no casualties.

Security forces have turned New Delhi into a virtual fortress and put its airports and other key installations temporarily out of bounds to civilians. Flights were suspended for about 90 minutes during the main celebration.

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