The government's Kashmir policy increasingly appears like a philharmonic orchestra where all the musicians are playing the part of the conductor. The fact that the army appears to have accidentally killed a young man in Handwara just as the tide seemed to be turning in favour of a dialogue suggests that there is little or no coordination in official thinking on the issue. Fortunately, chief minister Omar Abdullah has been quick to condemn the killing, the army has apologised and law and order seems under control.
But, this is no ground for complacency. Hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have already got off the mark, accusing Mr Abdullah of war crimes and fomenting unrest in Sopore where two young girls were killed recently, allegedly by militants. In the fragile tinderbox of Kashmir, it would be all too easy to go back to the summer of last year where the killing of three young men in Kupwara by the security forces mutated into a conflagration in which stone-pelters made their debut in the violence. The government has been getting a few things right on Kashmir in recent times. One is the appointment of a panel of interlocutors who have been talking to all sections of Kashmiri society. The other is its mature response to revelations from within the ranks of the separatists and hardliners that the killings of some of the leaders were by their own people. This had put the likes of Mr Geelani on the backfoot. In recent times, there has been far greater acceptance of the need for dialogue and even the BJP's ill-timed attempts at hoisting the tricolour in Srinagar on Republic Day did not lead to too much damage, barring a bit of over-the-top emotion we have come to associate with such issues.
The government, clearly, lacks quick and clear lines of communications among all the actors on the ground - the security forces, the civil administration, the army and the interlocutors. If the army had been warned that it must exercise the maximum restraint, perhaps the Handwara episode could have been avoided. If the security forces' record had not been so suspect, Mr Geelani could not have tried to lay the killing of the two girls on its doorstep. The important thing now is to ensure that an impartial probe both by the army and the civil administration is undertaken and the guilty punished within a very short timeframe. Any lapse will allow separatists and their mentors across the border to exploit the situation. The discordant notes of the Kashmir symphony are beginning to grate. It is time for the government to pick up the baton decisively.