Pakistan also has a role in resolving the conflict, says separatist leader A moderate Shia cleric appointed as the new chairman of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, has said he will negotiate with India, but only at the highest level. 'Let Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offer dialogue without conditions. We will talk to him,' said Maulvi Abbas Ansari, the 67-year-old newly appointed Hurriyat chief. The Hurriyat has been bristling ever since the Indian Prime Minister appointed retired bureaucrat N.N. Vohra as the Indian Government's main negotiator over Kashmir last year. Mr Ansari, who in the past has praised Mr Vajpayee's efforts to resolve the long-running Kashmir dispute, has been outspoken in his criticism of Mr Vohra's appointment. 'Who is Vohra?' he asked. 'I am the chief of the Hurriyat. I represent the people and their aspirations. Vohra is just a retired bureaucrat. I want to talk to people of my status. There can be no bargaining.' Mr Ansari, known to have strong connections to Pakistan, also maintained that since 'Pakistan is sitting on one part of Kashmir like India, Pakistan has a role in resolving the Kashmir crisis'. Apart from Mr Ansari's demand, Mr Vajpayee has to contend with another political headache - Kashmir's National Conference party, which ruled the state until last year, has severed its links with Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and walked out of the ruling national coalition. The National Conference is now headed by Omar Abdullah, India's former junior foreign minister, who took control last year. While announcing his party's decision, Mr Abdullah not only raised questions about the treatment of minority Muslims under the Hindu nationalist BJP, but also underscored a proposal that is anathema to India -third-party mediation in the Kashmir dispute. Mr Abdullah said Nelson Mandela should be invited to mediate, since the former South African president 'has the acceptable strength of character to bring India and Pakistan closer to a solution which they have not been able to reach bilaterally'. Signalling the changing political winds, the National Conference leader even said 'the relevance of the Hurriyat cannot be eroded' despite a bitter dispute between hardliners and moderates within the separatist alliance.