Neighbours top priority, says Krishna; asks Pakistan to act against terror (Lead)

May 23rd, 2009 - 9:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 23 (IANS) Underlining India’s pursuit of an independent non-aligned foreign policy and stronger relations with neighbours, S.M. Krishna in his first remarks as external affairs minister Saturday asked Pakistan to take “effective action” against terrorists if it wants to resume the composite dialogue with New Delhi.
“Generally, we like peace with our neighbours. But we can’t change neighbours,” Krishna, a former chief minister of Karnataka, said in his first interaction with the media after being named external affairs minister earlier in the day.

“We stand ready to extend the hand of friendship. Pakistan must take determined and credible action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism,” Krishna, dapperly dressed in a white kurta pyjama, replied when asked if India was ready to resume the stalled composite dialogue with Pakistan.

“That has been the stumbling block. It’s for Pakistan to take effective action and necessary steps,” stressed Krishna, who is expected to move into his office in South Block Monday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said many a time that the dialogue with Pakistan can only be resumed after Islamabad brings the perpetrators of the Mumbai mayhem to justice.

India suspended the composite dialogue with Pakistan revolving around eight contentious issues including Jammu and Kashmir, after the Nov 26-29, 2008 terror carnage in Mumbai that India says was masterminded and executed by Pakistani militants.

Krishna’s first press conference was held at the Karnataka Bhavan, housing offices of the state where he was born and which he subsequently led as chief minister during 1999-2004.

Reading out from a statement by the external affairs ministry on the situation in Sri Lanka, issued last week after the Tamil Tigers were militarily crushed, Krishna said it was the “opportune time” to address the “root causes of conflict” by credible devolution of powers to Tamil minorities.

Krishna also stressed on relief and rehabilitation of over 200,000 displaced civilians who are currently living in woeful conditions in refugee camps.

Krishna placed India’s foreign policy in the larger global perspective and underlined the challenges ahead of him in deepening “an independent foreign policy of peace and development” based on non-alignment and strategic autonomy.

“We are at a moment in history when the world situation is rapidly changing and India, as a responsible power, must engage actively with the world,” Krishna said in a statement before answering questions from journalists.

“I am deeply conscious of the opportunities available to us and the difficulties that we face as we continue to pursue our independent foreign policy of peace and development and strengthen our strategic autonomy,” said the 77-year-old Krishna, a seasoned politician who has also served as governor of Maharashtra.

Krishna said his priority was to bolster ties with neighbours and underlined the importance of “a peaceful neighbouhood and a supportive international environment” for India’s economic growth.

“I accord highest priority to strengthen our political, economic and cultural relations with our neighbours and look forward to visiting them soon,” he said.

“Our primary objective is to sustain high rates of economic growth in the range of 9 to 10 percent in the coming decades. For that, we require peace and tranquility in our extended neighbourhood and a supportive international environment.”

Besides consolidating existing strategic partnerships with major powers like the US, Russia, China, Japan and the 27-nation European Union, Krishna assured that “strong and traditional ties” with countries in Africa, West Asia and Latin America will be further strengthened in days to come.

“I look forward to these challenging tasks in the pursuit of India’s non-aligned foreign policy,” he stressed.

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