April 16, 2005
New Delhi

PM's speech at banquet for President Musharraf of Pakistan

President Musharraf, Begum Musharraf, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives my wife and me great pleasure to welcome President Musharraf and Begum Musharraf to our table this evening. The people of India are with me as we extend our hospitality to you on your visit to our country. Mr.President, last month we had the pleasure of meeting your mother, brother and your handsome son. I believe your son was quite a hit with young people here ! My wife and I went down memory lane with your mother and brother, talking of common friends and shared experiences.

We were impressed by the wisdom and wit of your most affectionate mother.She was so utterly charming that my wife said to her, "I envy your daughter-in-law. She is so lucky to have a mother-in-law like you!"

Mr. President, when we met in New York I said that while I was born in what is now Pakistan, and you were born here, both of us have come to occupy these high offices in our countries without lengthy careers in politics! Fate has placed on our shoulders the burden of a sacred responsibility that we are now required to bear. The people of both our Nations expect us to play our due role, with sincerity of purpose and a commitment to our shared future.

India, Pakistan and especially the people of Jammu and Kashmir have paid a heavy price in terms of peace and development because of the persistent conflict of the past half century. The time has come to find an enduring solution to all the problems between the two countries. The people of our countries need a positive outcome and must not remain trapped in a zero-sum situation.

Mr. President,

South Asia has the potential to emerge as the most dynamic powerhouse of the world given its hugely talented human and abundant natural resources. There is no reason why the largest concentration of poor people in the world should be in South Asia. It is a challenge for all of us that the chronic poverty, ignorance and disease in our midst becomes a thing of the past in a reasonable period of time. Objective conditions point to South Asia emerging as a growth pole of the world economy. India and Pakistan,the two largest economies in the region, can give concrete shape to this vision and can find the pathway to a future of shared peace and prosperity.

A South Asia free of violence, poverty, disease and ignorance, in which there is a free movement of ideas, people, goods and services, needs to become a reality. The people of South Asia do not need further divisions, but greater unity. Clearly, a lasting peace between India and Pakistan is essential to ensure a stable and prosperous South Asia. The political leadership in both our countries has a solemn obligation to work in concert to realize this noble vision. History beckons us to rise to the challenge and grasp the opportunities to create boundless prosperity in our ancient land. If we fail to grasp these opportunities our people will not excuse us for the economy of vision and courage.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We cannot rewrite the past, but we can build a more secure future. A future that generates people's trust and confidence in the political leadership in South Asia. We must find practical ways and means to resolve all outstanding issues between us in a reasonable, pragmatic manner, cognizant of the ground realities.

The composite dialogue between the two countries, covering all outstanding issues, is encouraging. The confidence-building measures introduced have generated widespread enthusiasm. The bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad has tapped a latent reservoir of public support for stronger people-to-people contact between the two countries, especially among those living on either side of the Line of Control. The peace process and the composite dialogue need to be carried forward with even greater determination. However, in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, acts of terrorism must be prevented and we must together fight the scourge of terrorism in our region.

Our people and our common destiny urge us to make an earnest attempt to find a lasting solution to all issues. In a globalising and increasingly integrated world, borders have lost meaning for much of the world. The journey of peace must be based on a step-by-step approach, but the road must be travelled. As an ancient saying goes, a road is made by walking.

Mr. President, let us travel together on this path, to realize our shared vision of what the future holds for all of us.

Thank you.