- Dineshwar Sharma appointed as interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir
- He would have "complete freedom" to talk to even separatists: Centre
- Dineshwar Sharma, 63 was appointed as intelligence chief in 2015
Soon after, Mr Sharma told NDTV that he was "hopeful" for Kashmir and would talk to "everyone who is interested in bringing permanent peace in the Valley".
"There is no bar on him to talk to one group and not another... We want to understand aspirations of people of Jammu and Kashmir," Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, announcing the government initiative at a hurriedly-convened media conference.
"As a representative of the government of India, Dineshwar Sharma will initiate a sustained interaction and dialogue to understand legitimate aspirations of people in Jammu and Kashmir," Mr Singh said.
A third-generation police officer, Dineshwar Sharma, 63, retired in December 2016 after leading the domestic spy agency, the Intelligence Bureau, for two years.
This is the first concrete initiative by the NDA government in three years to reach out to Kashmiris and comes after a particularly-focused offensive by security agencies anchored from Delhi to crack down on foreign funding for separatists. In Srinagar, police and army teams have taken out dozens of local commanders of terrorist groups active in the Kashmir Valley.
The outreach, which indicates a shift in the central government's approach to handle the Kashmir issue from the prism of security operations without a matching political outreach, has been welcomed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. "Dialogue is a necessity of the hour and the only way to go forward," she said.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, however, said he would "keep an open mind and wait to see results of the dialogue process".
In a series of tweets, Mr Abdullah said the dialogue process started by the centre "a resounding defeat of those who could only see use of force as a solution", a swipe at BJP leaders seen as loud advocates of a hardline policy on disturbances in the Kashmir valley.
Explaining why the government had appointed the interlocutor, the Union Home Minister said there had been suggestions from across the political spectrum that the government should hold dialogue with all stakeholders in Kashmir.
Mr Singh also called the move a follow-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day address in August where he had stressed that "Kashmir's problems can only be solved by embracing Kashmiris", not bullets or abuses.
In 2010, the Manmohan Singh government too had appointed a group of three interlocutors led by eminent journalist Dilip Padgaonkar who had given their final report in a year. But most recommendations that called for review of laws that give security forces immunity from prosecution without the government's approval and allow detention of people for years on suspicion, were not accepted.
Asked if the government really needed another report, the Home Minister didn't refer to the older report but underlined that the government's intentions were clear.
The minister also explained the government's decision to go for the intelligence chief as its interlocutor, saying the centre wanted someone who did not have any political affiliations as he would be most-suited to reach out all individuals and organisations concerned.