The beginning of what appears to be a truth and reconciliation process among the ranks of the Kashmiri separatists could also create a new opening for dialogue to arrive at an agreement on how to go forward in the state. Separatist leader Abdul Ghani Bhat's startling admission that many towering leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone and Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq were killed by people within their own ranks shows that a churning process has started within the movement, and that too in the right direction. It is amply clear now that many of the separatist leaders, including Bilal and Sajjad Lone, sons of the slain leader are not willing to be guided by the dictates of hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Geelani or his supporters across the border.
It would be premature to say that something positive could come of all this, given how many false starts we have seen on the Kashmir issue. But there are certain differences this time around. The UPA has pulled out all the stops on resolving the crisis. One step in this direction has been the constitution of a three-member interlocutors' panel to engage with a cross-section of society in the state. So far, people like Mr Geelani had presumed to speak on behalf of all the separatist leaders in rejecting the panel and insisting that nothing short of either azadi or merger with Pakistan was acceptable. The separatist leaders who have now come out with the call for introspection could also be influenced by events in Pakistan. Far from being the promised land for Kashmiris, Pakistan seems unable to shake off the grip of a deadly militancy which has claimed the lives of thousands of its own people, including many of its progressive leaders. Mr Geelani's efforts to disrupt the education system seem to have backfired as also his inability to come up any constructive agenda for the future.
The interlocutors would do well to adopt a more cohesive and positive approach to engaging with the separatists. So far, they have left the door open to any separatist who wants to talk to them. Perhaps, it would be worthwhile being a little more proactive, even if it means eating more humble pie than the three would like. It is vital to ensure that the dissensions in the ranks of the militants do not just descend into accusations and counter-accusations. Even as many of the separatists struggle to come to grips with the violent history of the movement, they should be given a chance to come back to the mainstream on their own terms as far as possible. This is not as difficult as it seems given the determination and innovation shown by the government in recent times.