Indian premier prepares new peace talks with Pakistan

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched a new peace initiative Friday with Pakistan , offering a "treaty of peace, security and friendship" to India 's longtime rival. "I am convinced we can move forward, if all concerned are willing to accept the ground realities; if all concerned take a long view of history and our destiny," Singh said as he launched a new bus service between India and Pakistan .

The specifics of the treaty were not immediately clear, but Singh appeared to be offering an umbrella treaty that would bind the two countries together, in hopes that other issues from trade to Kashmir could be more easily settled. However, accepting the realities on the ground has long been a major point of contention between India and Pakistan . Pakistan has repeatedly insisted that the issue of the Himalayan region of Kashmir now divided between the two nations be resolved before other issues are addressed.

India made a similar offer to Pakistan in the mid-1980s, which was turned down because Islamabad wanted the dispute over Kashmir resolved first. But Singh indicated that real progress could be made if issues other than Kashmir were tackled.

"It would be a mistake to link normalization of other relations with finding a solution (to Kashmir )," he said. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since gaining independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir . Singh singled out Siachen, a glacier high in the Himalayas where the two armies clashed in 1999, as an area where progress could be made.

The prime minister also praised Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for taking "bold steps" to curb terrorism, but said more work needs to be done. India accuses Pakistan of aiding Kashmiri militants who are fighting for independence from India or a union with Pakistan , a charge Islamabad denies.

Singh also emphasized the importance of improving people-to-people relations. Relations between India and Pakistan have improved considerably since the start of the latest peace process, in January 2004.

Still, the rivals have taken just small steps toward peace since the massive October quake that devastated Kashmir , a tragedy which was initially hoped would bring the countries together. The latest bus route links the Indian city of Amritsar to the Sikh pilgrimage site of Nankana Sahib in Pakistan , the birth place of the first Sikh guru. Other transportation links have been renewed by bus, train and plane since the two nations went to the brink of war in 2002. After his speech, the gold bus, with the Indian and Pakistani flags on its side and bedecked with flowers, pulled slowly out of Amritsar with passengers and the crowd waving, reports the AP.


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