Valley Hand In Quiet Talks

29 November 2009
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Muzaffar Raina

Srinagar: The “quiet” talks on Kashmir appear to have got an experienced facilitator: Wajahat Habibullah, who has taken charge as the state’s new chief information commissioner. He recently quit as central chief information commissioner (CIC) to take up the state assignment, and the buzz in both the official and separatist circles here is that he has a dual role to play. The appointment of an old Kashmir hand fits into the scheme of “quiet diplomacy, quiet talks” propounded recently by home minister P. Chidambaram, given Habibullah’s strong connections with separatist leaders. “I am ready to play a role (in a quiet dialogue) if asked,” Habibullah told The Telegraph, but denied his appointment in the state had anything to do with Centre’s fresh initiative on the talks. “I served as CIC of India for four years and I can use that expertise to strengthen the office (of the CIC in Jammu and Kashmir) so more and more people can benefit,” Habibullah added. But why did he leave the more lucrative post for the Kashmir assignment? “Because of my fondness for Kashmir. I want to give people a sense of partnership in the governance of the state,” he said. Official sources said Habibullah had returned at the request of chief minister Omar Abdullah after the former bureaucrat played a key role in helping the state draft its Right to Information Act. An officer said Habibullah would have a role in the talks. “He is certainly expected to help strengthen the institution of dialogue here given his long association with Kashmir,” he added. According to Hurriyat sources, Habibullah recently met chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and asked him to start talks with the Centre. “He was one bureaucrat who always maintained his connections with the separatists, whether he was in Kashmir or outside,” a leader in the Mirwaiz camp said. Habibullah qualified for the IAS in 1968 and took his first assignment in Kashmir a year later, serving in various capacities till 1982. He returned in 1990 at the peak of militancy but his new term was cut short by a near-fatal accident involving his car with a security force vehicle in 1993. At that time, he was Kashmir’s divisional commissioner and was leading the negotiations on behalf of the government with militants holed up inside the Hazratbal shrine. Habibullah won accolades for his efforts to bring a peaceful end to the Hazratbal siege and his accident was seen here as a deliberate move to pin him down. He came back after six years to head Jammu and Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority but stayed only for a year.