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Vohra tests troubled waters
- Kashmir pointman kicks off talks with parties

Jammu, March 5: The Centre’s new liaison man for Kashmir began preliminary talks today with leaders of the ruling alliance and the Opposition to work out his future course of action to bring peace to the troubled state.

N.N. Vohra met chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, his deputy Mangat Ram Sharma and National Conference legislature party leader Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah to tap the pulse of major political parties.

Sources said the chief minister told the former bureaucrat the dialogue this time was of utmost importance because it comes in the wake of elections that were free and fair for the first time in five-and-a-half decades.

Vohra was reluctant to comment on the course he has undertaken. He called his trip a “familiarisation visit”, which, he said, would help him decide whom to talk to and when.

He indicated that his dialogue process would stretch over several rounds and take up one by one various issues thrown up by political leaders in the state. Vohra made it clear he was not averse to meeting anyone, including separatists, but their attitude has to be responsible. Political observers here interpreted this as a warning to Hurriyat Conference leaders not to expect a seat across the table if they were to rake up the issue of the state’s accession to India.

Earlier, on his arrival, Vohra met Governor Girish Chandra Saxena with whom he discussed the latest situation, the utility of the dialogue and the course it should take to inspire confidence among leaders and people he would meet.

Sources said Vohra is reviving his contacts in Kashmir and also trying to view the situation from a geo-strategic angle.

There have been various suggestions on how to go about the dialogue. One was involving the Hurriyat, while another suggested that the June 2000 autonomy report of the state legislature be discussed. “Many more suggestions have come up and this would not be appropriate to discuss all those at this stage,” the sources said.

Yesterday, Mufti had dispelled fears that a bureaucrat-interlocutor could not break the ice on Kashmir. He said the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975 was paved by a bureaucrat, G. Parthasarthy.

“The dialogue would be unconditional and not by pick and choose,” Mufti said, replying to a supplementary by senior National Conference leader Ali Mohammad Sagar during question hour in the Assembly. “New Delhi has appointed Mr Vohra on our initiative and the state government has a definite role in preparing the roadmap for talks,” he added.

The chief minister asked political parties to “adopt a common approach and arrive at a consensus for talks with the Centre’s interlocutor for restoring peace with dignity in the state.” He described Vohra as “a man of integrity, credited with very high-profile assignments”.

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