The decision by the government to finally engage the sponsors of separatism across a conference table is a brave one. It is a step that governments have refused to take for more than 50 years. The optimistically labelled "peace talks" are the first step that may help to bring some reason to the very unreasonable situation in the deep South. But they may also fail.
The government committed itself on Feb 28 to a "peace dialogue" with a group based in Malaysia. Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanatabutof the National Security Council recognised the Islamic cleric Hassan Taib as an influential member of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN). The BRN, formed in 1960, has long been known as a driving force behind the effort to win independence for the three southern provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, plus part of Songkhla.
Malaysia, which has a special - although never carefully defined - interest in Thailand's southern region, vouched for Mr Taib's bona fides as a senior BRN member.
There is little agreement between Thailand and the BRN on any issue. Both sides are talking, however, for the same reason. The violence and terrorism in the deep South has produced a political stalemate and an unwinnable war. The peace dialogue is now the only way out of a quagmire that is killing an average of 10 Thais every week, most of them in savage fashion.
To get to the first session of dialogue last Friday, each side gave up an important principle. The government agreed to treat an outlaw, terrorist-friendly group as an equal at the conference table. The BRN agreed to talk "under the framework of the Thai constitution" - in other words, to abandon its 53-year-old demand for separatism and independence.
It took some diplomatic imagination and statesmanship to get to Friday's Paradon-Taib talks. The very basis of "peace dialogue" is compromise. Lt Gen Paradon and Mr Taib have both compromised important principles and have suffered criticism from their hard-line supporters.
The course of the talks in Malaysia is unpredictable. Nor was the first session, last Friday, any indication of what will follow. Mr Taib "suggested" a total amnesty for all acts by all combatants, criminals, terrorists and sympathisers in the southern provinces - hardly a serious proposal, at least for now. But it was Lt Gen Paradon's counter-proposal that gained much attention.
The government's opening gambit is a proposal that the BRN and its so-called young juwae fighters stop, or at least scale back, their attacks and violence inside Thailand. It's a popular proposal, of course. And Lt Gen Paradon has made a spectacular propaganda point, that it would prove the authority of the BRN and Mr Taib.
In truth, it also is entirely unrealistic. Violence, intimidation and terrorism are all the BRN and other groups have. While both sides have compromised to get to the negotiating table, the talks expose the weakness of the separatist side. The BRN, its allied groups and its juwae fighters have a single bargaining chip. Those who expect the separatists to give up or to cool down their war in the South have unrealistic expectations of a shaky process that could result in peace, or break down and continue the war.