New Delhi: The move to restore peace in the Kashmir valley gained fresh momentum on Monday after Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti reached out to all stakeholders, including the so-called Kashmir separatists.

Taking to Twitter, the chief minister said, “The hope of resolution via dialogue has been rekindled in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir)," and then added, “I am optimistic that parties and organisations in J&K will not miss this opportunity to be a part of peace parleys."

Mufti’s intervention coincidentally came on the day Dineshwar Sharma, the special interlocutor appointed by the Union government, touched down in Srinagar to launch Kashmir peace talks.

The Kashmir separatists have already rebuffed Sharma’s overtures, but the intervention by the chief minister may provide them the political room to reconsider. According to reports compiled by Indian intelligence, they had signalled their willingness to join peace negotiations after Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s visited the state on 9 September.

“The top separatist leaders are looking for a dialogue with the government. Following the visit of the Union home minister and his statement conveying willingness to talk to all shades of opinion, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik met Syed Ali Shah Geelani on 15 September. The joint separatist leadership maintained they were never against sincere, result-oriented dialogue," an intelligence report stated. The report added that among the three separatist leaders, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was most inclined to talk. “However, he did not appear willing to initiate the process on his own or on a separate track," the report said.

While defence experts stated that the possibility of talks with the less hardline separatists must not be ruled out, the decision should be left to Sharma.

“Dineshwar Sharma must meet everyone who wishes to meet him. He must also gauge carefully the sentiment of the people. As a former member of the IB (Intelligence Bureau), he has sufficient experience to deal with the people of Kashmir. Once the dialogue process concludes, the Prime Minister must make a concrete offer to the people," said Gurmeet Kanwal, defence analyst at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a Delhi-based think tank.

Nearly two weeks after his appointment, Sharma reached Kashmir on Monday morning, on a five-day visit. He will be spending three days in Kashmir, and then proceed to Jammu on 9 November, senior central government officials confirmed.

Sharma had been appointed by the union government on 23 October as the government’s “special representative", to initiate peace talks in Jammu and Kashmir. Last week, he signalled his openness and said that he would be “meeting all the stakeholders in Kashmir" and “would explore all options to end the hostility in the state".

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