On Board Air India One: Asserting that he is not putting "blinding faith" in his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani for pushing bilateral dialogue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said Pakistan's armed forces were "on board" on the peace process.

He said India wanted to strengthen the hands of the civilian government in Pakistan and that Gilani, whom he met in Male on Thursday, has "clearly understood" that one more Mumbai-like attack will be a big setback in the peace process.

The Indo-Pak peace process, the resumed dialogue of which is going to take place shortly, was subject to accidents, Singh said while answering a wide range of questions from journalists on board his special flight while returning from Maldives.

He said his visit to Pakistan would take place only when Pakistan takes solid steps against the Mumbai terror attack accused in that country.

"I would not like to go into the details of this matter. But when I did discuss with Pakistan Prime Minister whether Pakistan's armed forces were on board, the feeling I got after a long time was that Pakistan's armed forces were on board," he said in reply to a question on Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar's claim that army was on board the peace
initiatives with India.

Asked what prompted him to call Gilani a "man of peace", Singh said he had met him four-five times and every time they discussed bilateral issues, his counterpart had agreed that there was no way forward except for peaceful resolution of all problems and that terrorism was not helping the process.

"In fact, he (Gilani) has gone ahead and expressed his reservations that terrorism is a common enemy, it (terrorism) has not  helped advance Pakistan's cause. I tend to believe that Pakistan has a democratic government. We would like to strengthen the hands of the democratic government.

"In the desire for normalising the relations, trade and terror-related issues, I think, in Gilani Pakistan has a Prime Minister who is ready to work with us," he said.

Asked about trusting Gilani, the Prime Minister said, "it is not that we are putting blind faith in one individual, however well-meaning he may be. PM Gilani and I believe in normalisation of relations."

Singh said he and Gilani agreed that the resumed round of dialogue should start and it will be imperative in the development of trade relations with the changing attitude of Pakistan by giving Most Favoured Nation (MFN) and the willingness of Pakistan to discuss all issues including that of terrorism.

"So I come back (from Male) with the expectation that the second round with Pakistan will begin very shortly. But what will be the outcome of the dialogue I cannot say now  because Indo-Pak relations are subject to accidents," he said.

"We both recognised that if there is one (more) incident like Mumbai attack, then that would be a big setback. I think that has been clearly understood by PM Gilani," he said. The Prime Minister said he left his Pakistani counterpart in no doubt that the Indian public opinion is not satisfied that justice has been done against those responsible for Mumbai attacks and that the peace process cannot move forward unless there is some movement on the issue.

He said Pakistan has agreed to send a Judicial Commission to India, details of whose visit are being worked out and after that "I expect some progress."

To a question on comments by him and Gilani on scripting a "new chapter" in Indo-Pak relations, Singh said trade and economic relations were the main areas where progress was possible.

"Trade liberalisation can be a big boost along with other CBMs across the LoC (Line of Control) where lives of ordinary people can be improved," he said.

Singh also said that Pakistan recognises that using terror as an instrument of state policy has no takers in the world and that it does not solve any problem. "Terror has also dented Pakistan's image," Singh said.

Pakistan has been told, the Prime Minister said, that it has to deal firmly with terrorism and "I think this is another area where both countries can move forward."

However, he added a rider, saying India's approach towards Pakistan was "trust but verify".

Asked how tangible was the process of trust and verification, he said the day India gets "solid evidence" that Pakistan is involved in fuelling acts of terror, that will send totally negative signals."

Queried whether he had agreed to visit Pakistan, Singh said whenever Gilani met him, he had invited him to undertake the visit. "But I have also said that the right moment to visit Pakistan will be if solid steps are taken (by Pakistan against terrorism). When time comes, I will visit."

(Agencies)