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Vohra to liaise with Mufti

New Delhi, Feb. 19: Retired home secretary N.N. Vohra has been named the government’s pointman for Kashmir.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who made the announcement in Parliament this morning, said chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had approved the appointment of the former bureaucrat.

Vohra, who pipped Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant and Kashmir committee chairman Ram Jethmalani to the post, has also held the post of defence secretary. In the mid-1990s, he had headed the Vohra Committee to look into alleged links between politicians and criminals.

Advani said Vohra would carry on the “discussions between the Centre and the state government”, but did not specify when the dialogue with elected representatives of the state as well as separatists would begin. “The process will start soon depending on Vohra,” he added.

Mufti reacted to the news of the appointment with enthusiasm. “It’s very good news. It will provide a good opportunity for a meaningful dialogue with the elected representatives and other sections of the people of the state,” he said. The people of Kashmir and all groups in the state should avail this opportunity of dialogue to restore “lasting peace” with dignity, the chief minister added.

The Mufti government had earlier insisted that a political person should be entrusted with the job. Keeping this in mind, Advani said a decision has to be taken at the “political level” once the process of consultation is over.

Home ministry officials explained that Vohra would begin the preliminary process of talking to all groups, including the Hurriyat as well as separatists willing to give up arms and come to the negotiating table.

North Block believes that Vohra is particularly suited to the job: “He is familiar with the problem. In fact, he knows it in and out. As home secretary, he took a great deal of personal interest in Kashmir and is acceptable to people in the state. We know he will do a good job,” a senior official said.

A Mufti aide, when contacted in Jammu, echoed the home ministry. “Vohra is known for his belief in a peaceful settlement of the problem. He is not a hawk and is sympathetic to the problems faced by the people of Kashmir. He is a liberal person seriously interested in dialogue,” the aide said. “His role will be to initiate discussions. He will present his findings to the government. It will then be up to the government to consider these demands.”

Mufti has been pleading with the Centre for talks ever since he took over. Political analysts say that even if he is not happy about Vohra’s appointment, he will not say anything in public.

“The state government was getting desperate for the Centre to take full advantage of the change in people’s mood in Kashmir. Though the Centre wanted to initiate the move much later in the year, Mufti was able to persuade New Delhi to make a start. After all, how long the current mood will last was a constant worry for Mufti’s coalition in Srinagar. At least, now he can say something is on the anvil,” a senior government official in Jammu said.

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