Saturday, July 26, 2014

Insurgency in Thailand’s deep South is not a religious conflict

Thinking in Bangkok must change to find the bold and correct policies that can resolve this crisis

Over the last couple of weeks, Thai authorities in the southernmost provinces have been boasting how they have stepped up security measures to ensure that the last 10 days of Ramadan will be a peaceful period.

And while there have been acts of violence here and there, the incidents were not serious enough to force the government to change its public relations line. Then came Friday's massive car bombing in Yala's Betong district. The incident claimed three lives and left at least 34 injured, four of them seriously.

Nevertheless, our officials love to play up the religious card, presumably to give the impression that they know their stuff.

What is amazing, however, is their failure to see the arrogance of it all. Think about it: A predominantly Buddhist state is using the Islamic religious card to contain insurgency that is rooted in ethno-nationalist sentiment.

If this conflict was about religion, Muslims in other pockets of Thailand - from Hat Yai to Chiang Rai - would have joined the bandwagon as well. State understanding has always been that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. The good ones are with the state and the bad ones take up arms.

Our officials are not able to see the ongoing conflict for what it is because they are blinded by their own prejudice and shallow analyses from their own people.

Take last year, for example, when the then government was supposedly engaging in peace talks with a group of self-proclaimed Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Coordinate (BRN-C). The so-called BRN-C "liaison", Hasan Taib, was supposed to make a public announcement about a Ramadan ceasefire but backed off because he knew the real BRN - people with real command-and-control over insurgents on the ground - did not support this highly politicised plan that was originally cooked up by Thai officials.

The first day of Ramadan, July 8, last year, saw a powerful roadside blast injuring eight soldiers in Pattani's Mayo district.

More than a week later, the then National Security Council secretary-general, Lt-General Paradon Pattanabut, was clinging to the same fantasy about a Ramadan ceasefire when in fact, the previous 10 days had seen a plenty of violence: A couple who sold vegetables were killed in Narathiwat's Rangae district; a couple who were rubber tappers in Pattani's Yaring district were shot dead; a kamnan from Yala's Katong survived a gunshot wound; a former ranger was shot dead in Narathiwat's Rusoh district; a 15-minute gunfight in Narathiwat's Joh Ai Rong left two soldiers seriously wounded; a roadside bomb injured a ranger in Yala's Bannang Sata district; a local religious figure was killed in Bannang Sata; a villager was shot dead in Rusoh; and, a roadside blast injured eight soldiers in Raman istrict.

Despite all those acts of violence, Thai officials and self-proclaimed security analysts were still trying to put on a brave face as if there had been a ceasefire deal. This year, however, no one is talking about a ceasefire during Ramadan. But there has been the rhetoric on how security has been tightened. And then came the Betong blast this Friday.

Instead of looking for ways to spin things for domestic consumption, perhaps our authorities should try to see the conflict for what it is and go from there.

The military junta that rules the country does not have opposition parties to worry about, so they should come up with bold ideas and understand that any policy failure will not have any affect on their national standing because Thai people's apathy towards the Malays in the deep South will give them the needed freedom to do whatever they want.

If Bangkok can get away with the Tak Bai massacre, go back on the promise of autonomy after securing an election victory, then policy failure in the deep South is the last thing they have to worry about. There is nothing to prevent them from taking bold action in this highly contested region that never got the respect that it deserved. The Nation, Bangkok

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