Prague 2 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- India's new government is calling for a "common nuclear doctrine" with its nuclear armed neighbors Pakistan and China. In a change in tone from the statements of India's previous Hindu nationalist government, newly appointed Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said officials from all three countries need to discuss nuclear policy "at the highest level."
Singh also indicated the readiness of India's new coalition government to move forward with the peace process on the divided region of Kashmir, which began with Islamabad more than a year ago.
Singh said a series of talks with Pakistan on both Kashmir and nuclear weapons already have been scheduled for later this month: "We have agreed with Pakistan that the officials of the two sides will be meeting in New Delhi on 19-20 June for the expert-level talks on nuclear confidence-building measures and 27 June and 28 June for the foreign secretary talks."
Singh also said that the new Indian government wants to look toward the future on issues such as Kashmir in order to ease relations with Pakistan: "The future of Indo-Pak relations no longer lies in the past. We cannot forget the past but neither should we be the prisoners of the past."
Analysts say Singh's remarks show that the new Indian government is adopting a nonaggressive tone toward its two nuclear-armed neighbors.
But observers also note that New Delhi's proposal is still in its initial stages. They say it will take time before a three-way dialogue is possible between all three nuclear declared states.
Riffat Hussain heads the department of strategic studies at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. He says the new Indian foreign minister seems to be suggesting that Pakistan is an equal player in the region's trilateral nuclear equation.
Hussain says that position is a significant development because the previous Indian government consistently refused efforts by the international community to bring India, Pakistan, and China together for nuclear talks.
"We cannot forget the past but neither should we be the prisoners of the past." -- Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Masood Khan, has described Singh's statement on a three-way nuclear dialogue as a "new and innovative proposal that needs further and deeper examination."
There was no immediate official reaction from Beijing to Singh's proposal. But David Zweig, an observer of Chinese policy based at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the proposal will help Beijing's efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan.
Zweig also noted that the India's previous government had responded angrily when the United States urged a role for Beijing in easing tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
For his part, Singh said New Delhi already has chosen a representative -- the newly appointed Indian national security adviser J.N. Dixit -- to meet with Chinese officials in the months ahead about their lingering border dispute:
"Special representatives of India and China on the boundary question will have their meeting in the very near future. It gives me great pleasure to announce that my friend and colleague, who has been appointed as the national security adviser, J.N Dixit, will be replacing Brajesh Mishra as our interlocutor with China," Singh said.
The official platform of India's coalition government calls for New Delhi to take on a leading role in "promoting universal nuclear disarmament." But the government also says it wants to maintain a "credible nuclear weapons program" of its own.
The new Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said in May that the future policies of New Delhi will aim, in particular, to improve ties with Pakistan: "We seek the most friendly relations with our neighbors, more so with Pakistan than with any other country. We must find ways and means to resolve all outstanding problems that have been a source of friction and the unfortunate history of our relations with Pakistan. It is our sincere hope that that should become a thing of past. We should look to the future with hope."
Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, has welcomed New Delhi's peace initiatives: "The government of Pakistan is committed to this peace process. We have invested a lot of time and effort [in the peace process]. And of course, it would be a pity if that were not the case, and I have no reason to believe that it is otherwise."
But newly elected members of parliament in Indian-administered Kashmir say the decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India over the region continues to be the most divisive issue in bilateral relations.
Mehbooba Mufti, a lawmaker and president of the People's Democratic Party in Srinagar, said the Kashmir dispute is linked to all other issues. He said a consensus needs to be reached on Kashmir by all political parties involved so that the peace process is taken more seriously by lawmakers.
Meanwhile, India's army chief, General N.C. Vij, has warned that as many as 4,000 Islamic militants are encamped on Pakistan's side of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.
Vij confirmed that few Islamic militants have crossed into Indian-administered Kashmir since Islamabad pledged in 2003 to crack down on cross-border terrorism. But Vij said the border still needs to be monitored carefully.
"Now that the snows have started melting, we shall see as to what is the attitude on the other side. As far as the [terrorist] infrastructure on the other side is concerned, it is very much there," Vij said. "The camps are there. The communication is there and people who want to come across are there. Over 3,500 to 4,000 so-called mujahedin [fighters] are there lined up along the border, and we will have to see in the next couple of months as to what is their attitude."
Islamabad has denied allegations by New Delhi that it sponsors cross-border terrorism. It also is denying that thousands of militants are lined up at the Line of Control with the intention of crossing over into the Indian-administered side of Kashmir.