New Delhi: In a breakthrough in efforts to restore peace in the Kashmir Valley, the National Conference (NC) relented on its threat to boycott the centre’s interlocutor to Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, and engaged with him on Wednesday.

Sharma told reporters in Srinagar that the dialogue process was well on track and he was “hopeful of a peaceful solution in Kashmir soon".

The interlocutor is now seeking a meeting with the separatist leaders of the Hurriyat and other organisations active in the Kashmir Valley, despite their public rebuff to the idea.

The political discussions with Omar Abdullah, working president of the NC, took place just three days after party president Farooq Abdullah dismissed Sharma’s visit to Kashmir.

While the party had lauded the centre’s move to appoint an interlocutor for the state, it had remained cynical of the outcome of the dialogue.

On Wednesday morning, Omar Abdullah told reporters in Srinagar that there had been no discussions on Kashmir’s autonomy—a subject which Farooq Abdullah had on Sunday claimed was the only way to end conflict in the Valley.

“Dineshwar Sharma and I met at my residence in Srinagar this morning. We discussed the prevailing situation in the state as also steps that can be taken to make his visits to the state more meaningful," Omar Abdullah tweeted.

While the NC leader maintained that the subjects of the discussion would remain confidential, he also urged Sharma to step out and engage with as many parties as possible, instead of “sitting in his guest house and waiting for people to come to him".

“What we talked about is between us. I put forward certain things and he agreed to consider them because if you just sit at the guest house and wait for people to come, nothing will happen. Hope when he comes next his efforts will increase," Omar Abdullah said.

He reiterated that Sharma be allowed greater autonomy in Kashmir. “The hurdles that the centre has created by statements should be stopped so that he can work freely. We hope if it’s done next time more people may meet him," he added.

With Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti’s support of Sharma’s visit to the state providing legitimacy to the dialogue process, the NC ignoring sceptics within the party is being viewed positively by experts.

“The centre and the local leadership have always been talking in different voices. There needs to be a single stand. In the past these meetings have happened in a very haphazard manner. But now it will be good if there is some clarity on what needs to be the priority in Kashmir," said Ellora Puri, assistant professor (political science) at the University of Jammu.

Defence analysts added that this was Sharma’s opportunity to right all past wrongs in the state. “He must get a sense of the lowest common denominator in the valley area because as a former IB (Intelligence Bureau) chief, he is familiar with the pulse of the people. So he is a good sounding board for the political parties as well as the local people and he will know how best to marry both interests," said Gurmeet Kanwal, defence analyst at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, a Delhi-based think tank.

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