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Prime Ministerís Opening Remarks at Roundtable Conference on Jammu & Kashmir

On February 25, 2006 Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh presided over a Roundtable Conference on Jammu and Kashmir in New Delhi. Presented below is the full text of his opening remarks:

Roundtable Conference on Jammu & Kashmir: PMís Opening Remarks

February 25, 2006

"Thank you very much for responding to my invitation to be part of this roundtable. I know each one of you has given a great deal of thought to the situation in the state. I want you to know how much personally I value your presence here. I am particularly looking forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions. But let me first share some initial thoughts with you. I hope that these thoughts will also make clear the purpose behind organizing this roundtable.

Friends, as all of you know, Jammu and Kashmir has been at the top of the agenda of our government. I have personally visited the state several times over the last two years. We are, of course, in constant engagement with the state government. The economic revitalization of the state has been a priority area. I have set up a special economic advisory council for J&K, and my office closely monitors the implementation of the various initiatives launched under special packages given to the state. We have also been directly engaged in providing relief to and rehabilitating the victims of the recent earthquake.

There have been unfortunate incidents in the last few days in which innocent civilians have been casualities. This was and is not the intention of the Armed Forces. I was grieved by the incident and at the loss of innocent lives. I fully sympathise with the sentiments of the people who are hurt by this incident.

I must point out that the Armed Forces have been trying their best to improve the situation and there has been an overall improvement in the ground situation. However, I have asked the Army to take remedial measures so that such incidents do not recur in future.

I have, in the past, also interacted with several elected representatives from the state including many of you who are present here today. We have even initiated a political dialogue with those outside the mainstream electoral system, including those from the All Party Hurriyat Conference. I have stated on several occasions that I am personally willing to meet and talk to anyone from the state who eschews violence.

In all these efforts, I am guided by a simple vision. Jammu and Kashmir has tremendous economic potential, the talent of its people its unparalleled, and its cultural diversity is unique. It can, and must, become a model of real empowerment of the people and comprehensive security for them. If this happens, J&K will be the epitome of unity, peace and prosperity in diversity.

When I visited Srinagar in November 2004, you will remember that I talked about building a Naya Jammu and Kashmir to students from the University. We have since done much to further the idea through our economic and political policies. Today, I seek your partnership to construct a New Jammu and Kashmir. A Naya Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, which is symbolized by peace, prosperity and peopleís power.

You are all the real stakeholders in the future of Kashmir, and it is only through your energetic participation that a New J&K can truly be built. Let this roundtable be remembered as an important step in building such a Jammu and Kashmir.

A round table is a dialogue. No one preaches and no one just listens. This is a dialogue of equals who promise to work together. Todayís meeting is a significant event. It will, however, achieve historical importance if we are able to unleash a process by which we can arrive at a workable blueprint that can help to create a new chapter in Kashmirís history. Not by compromising on oneís ideals, but in a spirit of mutual tolerance, understanding and accommodation.

I am of course acutely aware that all of us do not think alike. The people of Leh and Kargil may have different ideas about the future from those living in Srinagar. Those in Kathua may think differently from residents of say Sopore. But that is the real strength of our democracy, which celebrates differences and does not smother them.

But I am confident that all of you share my vision and are willing to be part of this effort. We can reconcile our differences if we are guided by this vision. I am also confident that others who are not here will eventually join us once they see the obvious merits in sharing ideas and working together.

Real empowerment, my friends, is not about slogans. Only when every man, woman and child from Ladakh to Lakhanpur and from Kargil to Kathua through Kashmir feels secure, in every sense of the word, can we truly say that people have been empowered. Security is freedom from fear and this is what we want to achieve. We want the people of Jammu and Kashmir to be free from all fears about their future. It is only this sense of comprehensive security, within a framework of good governance that can really empower the people.

We want the people to be physically secure and this can only happen if violence and terrorism ends permanently. We want the people to be economically secure and this can only happen if the tremendous potential of the state is channelised and ever citizen has access to quality education and health care. We want every group to be politically secure and this can only happen once power is decentralized to the villages.

Finally, we want every community to be culturally and socially secure. This means that we value the cultural distinctiveness of every community and create conditions for the flowering of their languages, their life styles and their arts and crafts. And we have to ensure that those who have been displaced can return to their homes. This vision of empowerment and comprehensive security is related to good governance and peopleís active participation in formulating policies and monitoring their implementation.

This roundtable is about sharing ideas. But I want, as I said, a process to start once this roundtable ends. A process of extensive consultation and debate with the people of the state. Let the civil society institutions of the state become the harbingers of peace by generating plans for a New Kashmir. A new Jammu and Kashmir must be created, after all, on the basis of a shared vision of the people and can never be mechanically imposed. We need to explore jointly new pathways to build a better tomorrow for the people of Jammu & Kashmir. If we work together, I am sure we can realize the dreams of the men, women and children of the state, ensure that all processes of governance are truly reflective of their concerns and create an environment in which all citizens can lead a life of dignity and self respect and free from the fear of war, want and exploitation."

New Delhi

Source: Official Website of the Prime Minister of India






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