KHUNDRU, India – India's prime minister said Sunday he wants "normalized" relations with Pakistan amid rising tensions between the South Asian rivals following the Mumbai attacks that left more than 160 people dead.
Addressing an election rally in Indian Kashmir — a focal point of much of the tension between India and Pakistan — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he hopes relations between the neighbors can be "normalized," but this cannot happen until "our neighbor stops allowing its territory to be used for acts of terrorism against India."
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Singh traveled to Khundru town in Kashmir after a breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in New Delhi. The two leaders discussed the attacks on Mumbai, which have been blamed on a Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
India has called on Pakistan to crack down on militant groups operating out of Pakistan.
Pakistan has carried out raids on a charity believed to be linked to Lashkar, but also urged India to provide further evidence.
India finds itself in the awkward position of having to investigate terrorist attacks hand-in-hand with its longtime nemesis. The two countries have fought three wars against each other since independence. Despite a peace process that began in 2004, tensions remain high.
Thousands of soldiers used barbed wire and metal barricades to seal off all approach roads to Khundru ahead of Singh's visit.
The prime minister addressed the rally ahead of the sixth of seven rounds of voting in state elections. The elections for Kashmir's state legislature started Nov. 17 and end Dec. 24. Voters cast their ballots in the fifth phase on Saturday as scattered clashes between protesters and government forces left one person dead.
Khundru lies just south of Srinagar, the main city in the region, which was largely deserted Sunday after authorities placed restrictions on public gatherings and separatist groups called a strike to protest Singh's visit.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where most people favor independence from mainly Hindu India or a merger with Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between the two rival countries and both claim it in its entirety.
Lashkar and about a dozen other militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. The uprising and a subsequent Indian crackdown have killed about 68,000 people, most of them civilians.
Separatist leaders have called for a boycott of the elections, saying they will entrench India's hold in the region.
Voter turnout in the first five phases of elections was considered surprisingly high, coming after the largest protests against Indian rule in Kashmir and a tough crackdown on separatist leaders.