Excellency President Musharraf, Begum Musharraf, Distinguished Guests from Pakistan, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with the greatest pleasure that I extend to you and Begum Musharraf and the distinguished members of your delegation, a cordial welcome on behalf of the Government and the people of India. You must have, Excellency, sensed the warmth with which Delhi is welcoming one of its distinguished sons on his first visit to the city after nearly half a century. From this capital city that throbs with old and new history, the heart of a modern and resurgent India, may I give expression to the hope of our people that your visit, on any reckoning a historic one, will open a new chapter in the relations between our two countries that will enable us to walk together on the high road of peace and friendship to our common goal of progress and prosperity.
In 1945-46, when the partition of India appeared almost inevitable, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, sitting in a cell in a British jail, wrote in his book "The Discovery of India" and I quote "It is obvious that whatever be the future of India, even if there is regular partition, the different parts of India, will have to co-operate with each other, in a hundred different ways". And after the partition took place, he declared his belief that "it is to India’s advantage that Pakistan should be a secure and prosperous State with which we can develop close and friendly relations." Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah expressing the same sentiment to the press said that "now that the division of India has been brought about by a solemn agreement between the two Dominions, we should bury the past and resolve that, despite all that has happened, we shall remain friends". There are many things which we need from each other as neighbours, morally, materially and politically, and thereby raise the prestige and status of both the Dominions". It is this vision of the future articulated by the leaders of both our countries that we have to pursue as the unfinished agenda of partition for resolving all the differences between us and for ensuring peace and prosperity for our peoples.
India, Your Excellency, is home to one-sixth of humanity. It is a nation of unparalleled diversities, held together by the spirit of tolerance, by its policy and practice of secularism, and its deep attachment to democracy. The words of Emperor Ashoka still rings in our ears, "all sects deserve reverence . . . By thus acting a man exalts his own and at the same time does service to others". It was the same message that Akbar the Great proclaimed. I recall the words of Qaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Pakistan Constituent Assembly when he referred to the tolerance and goodwill that Emperor Akbar showed to all as something that should be followed and practised. We in India hold fast to the fundamentals of tolerance and secular democratic principles and it is our conviction that on the basis of these principles India and Pakistan can regulate their relationship to one of genuine peace, friendship and co-operation.
Excellency, history has left behind many issues and problems between our two countries. But the major and the overriding issue for the millions that inhabit the sub-continent is that of poverty, illiteracy and ill health, in short general and massive deprivation. You have, Excellency, often talked about this. In India it has been our main preoccupation since Independence to eradicate poverty and to elevate the levels of living of our people. Mahatma Gandhi had said that his mission in life was "to wipe every tear from every eye". He had advised us whenever you have to make a decision, you recall to your mind the face of the poorest man you might have seen and ask yourself if the decision you are going to take will help him or not. To-morrow when you and the Prime Minister of India sit together in Agra for your dialogue I hope the face of the poorest person in the sub-continent will be before you and you will ponder together how this impoverished common man will be benefitted by your deliberations and decisions. If this is held before you I believe that all other issues between us will pale into secondary importance and will become amenable to amicable and satisfactory solutions.
There are many fields in which we can work together and co-operate constructively for the benefit of our peoples. Both our countries have made significant strides in economic development and in science and technology. Let us remove all impediments in the path of interaction between our peoples. Let our scholars, artists, writers and professionals and above all our common people meet freely and sense the warmth of fraternal friendship. Let us join our forces and the talents of our gifted people to make development and the blessings of modern science and technology for the benefit of our people. It is only common sense that for this purpose we need an atmosphere of peace and mutual confidence between us. We have to rule out violence from our relationship. We seek friendly and co-operative relations with all states, particularly with those in our neighbourhood. We believe that our region has to progress together even while each state safeguards and develops its individual and distinct personality and its own chosen way of life. India continues to support and strengthen SAARC on the basis of the well-thought out charter of the organisation. I believe that if India and Pakistan can establish normal bilateral relations SAARC will be transformed into a dynamic regional organisation.
Excellency, let us endeavour during this visit to build upon what we have agreed upon in the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. At Shimla we had solemnly declared that "the two countries put an end to the conflict and confrontation that have hitherto marred their relations". It is time to implement this eloquently stated desire of our two countries. The City of Agra where you would be parleying with our Prime Minister from to-morrow is the city of love as well as the city of reconciliation. It is near there at Sikandra where Akbar the Great lies buried. May his spirit pervade the conference chamber to-morrow. I believe that the dialogue between India and Pakistan that we have initiated will evolve into a structured dialogue at the summit as well as other levels which will lead to the removal of all obstacles and misunderstandings that stand in our way and pave the way to the solutions of problems and the creation of enduring friendship between our two nations.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I invite you to raise a
-- to the establishment of friendship and cooperation between India and Pakistan ;
-- to the progress and prosperity of the people of Pakistan ;
-- to the good health and happiness of the President of Pakistan and Begum Musharraf
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine