Nothing sustains an insurgency better than unresolved old grievances revived by young militants with no effective representatives, as Thais learn.
VIOLENCE in Thailand’s southernmost provinces Patani, Yala and Narathiwat erupts sporadically, growing more faceless and intractable.
Officials say they cannot comprehend the motives behind the violence, or whether they are political, criminal or personal in nature. Apparently random shootings and bombings target everyone.
As successive governments fumble for answers without success, the senseless violence deepens and broadens indefinitely.
Don Pathan, director of Foreign Relations of the Patani Forum, recently discussed these issues in an exclusive interview during the Asean-ISIS annual Asia-Pacific Roundtable hosted by ISIS Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
> How is the current security situation in the southernmost provinces?
The situation hasn’t changed. After the March 31 attacks in Yala and Haadyai, we can expect more violence with more high-profile targets.
The issue is still separatism. Young people on the ground are now selling their skills in making car bombs and motorcycle bombs to civilian (criminal) elements.
The activists had earlier gone underground, with the leaders going to Europe. They resurfaced in 2001, but this was not recognised until the 2004 army depot raid (the raiders stole 400 M16 assault rifles).
Bangkok’s response was typical: sealing the border and putting some districts under curfew, but nothing changed. Some 5,000 people have been killed so far, with most of the perpetrators and victims Malay-Muslim. The groups are Pulo (the more established Patani United Liberation Organisation), BNPP (Barisan Nasional Pembebasan Patani), and BRN-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional). There is no unity among these groups. But the BRN has the best working relations with government officials.
Until there is a commitment by the Thai government to the peace process, they won’t come to the table.
> On the concept of “human security”:
That’s such a vague term. The issue is to give communities in the south a stake, a sense of empowerment.
There has been much talk of autonomy, but all the parties promoting the concept did not get a seat in Parliament.
The southern communities are concerned with equality and justice, and they have lost faith in Bangkok politicians.
Chinese and Buddhist votes in the south have traditionally gone to the Democrat party. The Malay-Muslim votes are split, with many going for the Democrats as protest votes against Thaksin Shinawatra (the former premier who lost favour over his rough handling of southerners).
> On the Patani Forum:
It began as a group of young people, academics, Malay-Muslims and those on the ground (in the southernmost provinces) seeking to push the envelope in talking about the grievances that local communities have. Unless the historic grievances are addressed, we cannot solve the conflict.
It is not about Islam but about Thailand’s nation-building concept, which has no room for the Malay-Muslim narrative (culture, history, traditions). This narrative has to be respected to get to the heart of the problems.
The issue is centred on the legitimacy of the Thai state in the Malay-Muslim homeland. These communities are willing to be part of the Thai state (Thailand), but it has to be on their terms.
The Thai military can wipe out the pejuang but in one generation, they can be back. Their narrative has never gone away.
> On international criticism of Thailand’s human rights record:
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have criticised the Thai government over the deep south.
There is a culture of impunity on the part of government officials. They have to do a lot more in the rules of engagement, for example.
Currently the burden of proof is on the victims (of the political violence) to prove that the violence they suffered had been committed with malice. But people in the local communities see it differently.
> On comparing the records of different Thai governments:
They are more or less the same, using the same bureaucratic means. They need to think outside the box and be more creative in finding solutions.
This involves the need to address the identity of the local communities and acknowledging their cultural space.
> On alleged “hotspots” said to inflame public sentiment against the Thai state:
The madrasah (Islamic religious schools) are not the problem. There is more talk on the liberation of Patani in local teahouses than in localmadrasah.
In the April 2004 incident in Songkhla, for example, the cell involved people from different madrasah, but they were from the same football team.
This shows that the social sphere of the activists is more important than formal institutions like their (religious) school.
> On how to bring the situation under control:
The Thai government needs to negotiate with the people, not just the insurgents. There has to be a sense of ownership (by the communities), a need for the government to acknowledge the past, and to admit to mistakes made.
Autonomy has been discussed by Malay-Muslim elites and academics, but local people are more concerned about social mobility, equality and justice.
There is no short-term solution. There should be a development plan to produce more Malay-Muslim professionals, for example.
Officials have given local communities livestock, but that doesn’t change the issues. It is seen as a way of looking for informants in the community.
Local Malay-Muslims may not agree with the insurgents’ violence, but they share the same sentiments.
Civil society groups should be more active in demanding greater cultural space for the local communities.
If the Thai state itself did that, it would have more legitimacy among local communities.
> On how Malaysia and others can help:
Malaysia would like to facilitate a peace process, but not mediate. There has been cooperation in areas like education and job skills training.
There can be more work with the exile community. More can be done to strengthen the capacity of the old guard and long-standing groups, such as the secret Langkawi talks.
Younger insurgents need the old guard because they have no other way out, but the old guard who can work with the international community must also show they can deliver.
Thais are starting to appreciate the goal of an Asean Security Community. Asean can encourage the Thai government to loosen up its approach.
As in Malaysia and Indonesia, inclusive nation-building that involves minorities can be an example for Thailand.
Behind The Headlines by Bunn Negara Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Sunday June 3, 2012