NEW DELHI: India is ready to take the first steps to peace with Pakistan, but the problem of ‘unending terror’ limits the way forward, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in remarks published on Friday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, ahead of his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in early June, Mr Modi was asked what led to the thaw with Pakistan, particularly his decision to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore.

Mr Modi appeared to play down the acclaimed uniqueness of the gesture. “My government’s proactive agenda for a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood began from the very first day of my government.” He was referring to the invitation to Saarc leaders in Delhi at his swearing in at which Mr Sharif was present.

“I have said that the future that I wish for India is the future that I dream for my neighbours. My visit to Lahore was a clear projection of this belief.”

Mr Modi leaned on familiar diplomatese both sides use when they have nothing specific to offer. “I have always maintained that instead of fighting with each other, [India and Pakistan] should together fight against poverty. Naturally we expect Pakistan to play its part.”

He stressed, however, that there could not be any compromise on terrorism. “It can only be stopped if all support to terrorism, whether state or non-state, is completely stopped. Pakistan’s failure to take effective action in punishing the perpetrators of terror attacks limits the forward progress in our ties.”

In Mr Modi’s view bilateral ties could scale great heights once Pakistan removed what he called self-imposed obstacle of terrorism in the path of better ties. “We are ready to take the first step, but the path to peace is a two-way street.”

Read: Pathankot JIT received limited cooperation in India: FO

Mr Modi was cautious in his comments on China, indicating that India was still opting for a non-aligned policy though it would no longer stand in a corner. He dropped hints about China gaining influence in the Indian Ocean region though, remarks which could be of interest to his hosts in Washington.

“With a 7,500-kilometre long coastline, India has a natural and immediate interest in the developments in the Indo-Pacific region. We have excellent relationships with the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. India is a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. We, therefore, watch very carefully any developments that have implications for peace and stability in this region.”

Connectivity, he said, had been central to human progress over centuries. “We are engaged with many countries to develop infrastructure, in our region and beyond, for better connectivity. With regard to the Maritime Silk Road initiative, it is a Chinese initiative. We feel that the world needs to hear more from China on this initiative, especially its intent and objective.”

Editorial: Pak-India peace: one step back

Mr Modi was asked to comment on US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim diatribes, particularly in view of India’s large Muslim population. He evaded the answer, saying such issues were part of a democratic discussion. Hindu groups have held religious congregations to pray for Mr Trump’s success.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2016

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