Ahead of his talks with Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Monday said he was open to negotiations with the government of India, only at the level of prime minister or home minister, if it considered seriously his suggestions for peace in troubled Jammu and Kashmir.
"We are always committed to serious talks with India. But the agenda should be how to address the issue rather than talking to buy time," the 38-year-old Mirwaiz, who heads the moderate faction of separatist Hurriyat Conference, told IANS over phone from Srinagar.
The Hurriyat Conference would talk to "none less than the level of prime minister or the home minister", he said.
The Hurriyat chairman is meeting visiting Pakistani minister Khar on Tuesday evening at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.
Others invited for talks with the minister include, head of hardline Hurriyat faction Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The separatist leader, who is also the chief cleric of Jamia Masjid, a central mosque in Srinagar, said India and Pakistani foreign ministers - Khar and S M Krishna - talking and discussing the Kashmir issue was "a welcome sign".
"They are talking at such a high level indicates some seriousness. I hope this would continue and Kashmir will figure prominently (in the foreign minister level talks)," he said.
He said the Hurriyat admitted that Kashmir was a "complex issue". "We need to work on both fronts. Building confidence at the ground level and addressing the conflict. Previous talks between India and Pakistan have proved a failure. I hope it doesn't happen now."
The cleric, who joined politics when he was only 17 after the killing of his father in 1990, has repeatedly drawn criticism and sometimes even threats from militant groups for his forthright stance against violence and his willingness to talk to New Delhi to solve the over 60-year-old Kashmir dispute.
Many hardline separatists even call him a "traitorous freedom fighter".
But the tech savvy cleric, who received his early education at a Christian missionary school in Srinagar, says the conglomerate of separatist parties he heads was committed "to just peace" in Kashmir.
"Look, we had a peaceful summer. This is the time to consolidate the peace process rather than sitting over it," he asserted.
But his offer to join the peace process comes with riders.
"Confidence building measures are important to create an atmosphere for talks. India should release political prisoners, repeal draconian laws that give special powers to the armed forces and start gradual demilitarisation. There are curbs on political rights of Hurriyat leaders. We are not allowed to have our political programmes. In these conditions we cannot talk."