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Bangkok persists with hit-and-miss policies in far South

Bangkok persists with hit-and-miss policies in far South

SATURDAY, December 10, 2016
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Without sincere effort to find a political solution, peace is nowhere in sight

The Thai government is trying to pursue a development policy in the far South, ostensibly as a tool to discredit the insurgents who continue to make the area ungovernable with their attacks.
Development for the sake of development is not a bad idea especially for a region that has not received its fair share of government allocations. From infrastructure to education, the Muslim-majority far South has long been neglected by the state. 
The fact that there is an 
ongoing separatist insurgency makes it even harder to develop the area in the same manner as other regions in the country.
But if development projects are undertaken to satisfy security needs, the military and policy planners should not be surprised if they fail to achieve the desired outcome. 
Successive governments have paid lip service to the need for a political approach, as opposed to military, in resolving this long-standing conflict in the Malay-speaking South. It is a self-evident fact that a political solution is the only way to go. But our leaders get caught up in their desire to get even, to punish separatists, their sympathisers and supporters 
simply because they refuse to go along with our policy of assimilation.
Authorities have often talked about justice but not a single security officer in these past 13 years, since the current wave of insurgency began, has been punished for any crime – even in the most obvious cases that called for criminal charges. It is intriguing that local and international human rights organisations have documented so many violations but none of them has been dealt with seriously by the government. 
Of late, the catchword is “safety zone” – an area or a district that is free from violence. The idea is being cooked up by Thai negotiators and the MARA Patani, an umbrella organisation of long-standing separatist groups who are yet to convince the government in Bangkok that they have sufficient control on the ground to make any difference. Within this designated “safety zone”, development projects are to be carried out. 
It sounds good and rosy but the initiative ignores one major obstacle. MARA Patani is not in a position to guarantee that the insurgents will not carry out attacks, because they have virtually no control over the militants on the ground and the one group that does – the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – is not a part of the dialogue process. 
When confronted with this inconvenient point, Thai policymakers more or less reveal the strategy behind their thinking. First of all, the people at the negotiating table are aware that MARA Patani doesn’t have control over the armed militants and that is the reason why the government refuses to take them seriously, like giving in to their demands such as for formal recognition.
Bangkok even refuses to call them by name and instead refers to the umbrella organisation as “Party B”.
The idea here is to keep talking to them to give the general public and the world the impression that Bangkok is engaging in efforts for a peaceful solution and it’s really up to the BRN to come to the table. The thinking in Bangkok is that the group risks losing the support of villagers and the insurgents by sitting out the peace talks. In this respect, MARA Patani is just a pawn.
Needless to say, such an official approach is shallow and unnecessarily puts lives at stake. Violence on the ground continues unabated with no end in sight. 
Nearly 7,000 people have been killed and there is no indication that support for the insurgents is declining. It’s time for Bangkok to think differently and creatively.