When Dineshwar Sharma, then director of Intelligence Bureau (IB), was asked to investigate the fledgling modules of the Islamic State (IS) in Kerala, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in 2015, he advocated a policy of counselling and reforming potential Islamic State recruits instead of arresting them.

His penchant for thinking out of the box may come in for further use now—Sharma has just been picked by the Union government to help negotiate peace in insurgency-racked Kashmir.

Wisely, the government appears to have decided to give him a free hand in his new assignment.

“Dineshwar Sharma is well-versed with issues in Kashmir and he is a fitting choice. He is free to hold talks with whichever group he deems fit and he will then submit a status report to the Centre," home minister Rajnath Singh said on Monday.

A 1979-batch Kerala cadre IPS (Indian Police Service) officer, Sharma has been given the rank of cabinet secretary. He’s keeping his options open, saying he is yet to decide whether the negotiations would involve talks with separatist leaders.

“Upon my visit to Kashmir next week, I will decide which group should be spoken to. I will assess the situation on the ground and then take a call on the dialogue process," Sharma told Mint.

The government has frequently turned to Sharma to broker peace. In June this year, he was asked to initiate a dialogue with insurgent groups in Assam, including the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) and those representing Bodos.

Last year in July, after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani by security forces created a ferment in Kashmir, the IB under Sharma was asked to keep a close watch on all home-grown and Pakistan-sponsored militant organisations. 

Sharma, who took up the reins at the IB in December 2014, retired in last December, declining an offer of extension.

Sharma is the latest in a long line of Kashmir interlocutors appointed by successive governments. They include current Jammu and Kashmir governor N.N. Vohra; and a team of three comprising academic Radha Kumar, civil servant M.M. Ansari and the late journalist Dileep Padgaonkar.

The government’s hopes are now pinned on Sharma to not only help stem the violence but also end the feeling of alienation among Kashmiri youths.

Harsh V. Pant, professor of International Studies at King’s College in London, believes that opening a dialogue with the Kashmiri people will strengthen India’s hand internationally.

“With this move, the Modi government can tell its foreign interlocutors that India has started the process of dialogue with the Kashmiris," he said.

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