New Delhi: In a major recalibration of its policy, the union government formally signalled its intent to begin a dialogue with all stakeholders to generate a peaceful solution to the problem of Kashmir.

Accordingly, union home minister Rajnath Singh, on Monday, appointed former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Director Dineshwar Sharma to be the Centre’s “special representative" in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We have decided that a sustained dialogue process will be started in Kashmir and for that purpose former IB chief Dineshwar Sharma has been appointed. He is well versed with the issues in Kashmir and is free to hold talks with all groups and political parties necessary," Rajnath Singh said in New Delhi.

Sharma, a 1979-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, served as the IB director from December 2014 to 2016, has been given the rank of a cabinet secretary.

Through this, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has signalled a major course correction: while it has not shied away from taking the hardline, it is also willing to talk peace.

In the last one year security forces, especially after the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian Army, have aggressively targeted terrorists. According to the union home ministry’s statistics, between January and August this year, the security forces have killed 132 militants compared to 150 in 2016 and 108 in 2015.

The union government’s decision was welcomed by both sides of the aisle in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Dialogue is the necessity of the hour and the only way to go forward," Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and head of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tweeted, before adding, “This dialogue initiative is in line with PM @narendramodi ‘s 15th August speech ‘na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagaane se (The Kashmir issue can be resolved only through dialogue, neither by bullets nor through abuse)."

Similarly, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah too tweeted that the acceptance of the political nature of the Kashmir issue was a “resounding defeat of those who could only see use of force as a solution."

Drawing on PM Modi’s Independence Day address, Rajnath Singh maintained that the government was serious about making Kashmir a part of the mainstream. He also implicitly signalled that Sharma would be free to initiate a dialogue even with the separatists.

“He (Sharma) will have the freedom to interact with whichever group he thinks fit in order to draft a plan to resolve the ongoing crisis in Kashmir. Once the talks are held, the status report will be submitted, by Sharma, to the Centre," Rajnath Singh added.

Sharma disclosed that he would be travelling to Kashmir next week. “I have not yet decided on the groups we will initiate a dialogue process with. We will come to that decision and whether or not to form a committee only after next week," Dineshwar Sharma told Mint.

In 2010, under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had formed a three-member committee of interlocutors, but failed to generate a solution.

“This is not the UPA government. We intend on finding a solution and reaching out to the people of Kashmir," Rajnath Singh added.

Radha Kumar, former head of the Delhi Policy Group, a think tank, and one of the three interlocutors appointed by the UPA backed a two track dialogue process -- one with the Kashmiris and the other with Pakistan.

“This will help ease the feeling of alienation if this dialogue process is sustained over a few years. Eventually once the common people are included in the mainstream, it will also help sideline the Hurriyat," said Gaurav Arya, former Indian army officer and defence expert.

Senior BJP leaders said that the talks between the union government, separatists and other stakeholders would set the ball rolling on restoring normalcy in the valley.

“The militants are already in Kashmir, so we cannot wait endlessly for the cycle of violence to stop. Dialogue is the only way forward. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for taking strong decisions, and the start of the dialogue process is one such initiative to make a fresh start," said a senior leader of BJP who is based in Srinagar.

Gyan Varma and Elizabeth Roche contributed to the story.

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