The August bombings in seven of Thailand's tourist towns portend a wider conflict, while the peace dialogue process has lost momentum. To get back on track, fragmented militants must end doubtful hopes of victory through violence, and the government must commit to a comprehensive settlement, including decentralisation and respect for the deep south’s Malay-Muslim identity.
Originally published in The New York Times
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Draft constitution returned to king 18 Feb following amendment of provisions concerning royal prerogatives; king has 90 days to sign. National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) instituted national reconciliation process with appointment of four committees on national strategy, reform, reconciliation, and strategic administration 6 Feb, and series of meetings hosted by defence ministry to canvas views of politicians starting 14 Feb; major political parties expressed scepticism over process. PM Prayuth Chan-ocha 15 Feb invoked Article 44 of interim constitution, which grants him unreviewable authority in matters of national security, to declare Wat Dhammakaya temple in Pathumthani “controlled area”, part of efforts to arrest Buddhist monk Dhammachayo on charges of money laundering. Dhammachayo widely seen as sympathetic to exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra and Red Shirt movement. Thai and Indonesian defence ministers met in Bangkok 2 Feb, reportedly discussed counter-terrorism intelligence cooperation. U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris launched annual combined military exercise Cobra Gold in Chonburi 14 Feb; most senior U.S. official to visit Thailand since May 2014 coup. In southern insurgency, suspected militants killed several people in attacks in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat during month. MARA Patani, umbrella group of five separatist groups in exile, issued statement 20 Feb in support of communities protesting against coal power plants in Krabi and Songkhla provinces. Member of Thai dialogue team 22 Feb said agreement reached with MARA Patani on establishment of safety zone, or limited ceasefire; main militant group BRN is not a party to MARA Patani.
Thailand’s military regime promised a return to democracy, but keeps prolonging its power by delaying general elections. Beyond a new constitution, Thailand needs a new social contract to resolve the crippling struggle between elected politicians and an unelected establishment that includes the army, bureaucracy and palace.
The insurgency that has plagued southern Thailand for more than a decade continues to fester. Peace talks have collapsed and rifts between the government and separatists remain deep. Resolving the conflict requires Bangkok to accept pluralism and decentralisation, and rebels to articulate their goals and commit to a dialogue process.
Martial law has brought calm but not peace to Thailand’s febrile politics. The military regime’s stifling of dissent precludes a frank dialogue on the kingdom’s future and could lead to greater turmoil than that which brought about the May 2014 coup.
After a decade of violence, the capabilities of Malay-Muslim insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South are outpacing the counter-measures of successive governments in Bangkok that have been mired in complacency and protracted national-level political disputes.
The violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year have challenged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to turn its rhetoric into action, but to achieve peace and security more robust diplomacy is required to end a still unresolved conflict.
The bombings [in Thailand] may have been intended to compel the military government to reconsider its approach to the conflict in the deep south.
Two years of military rule haven't really resolved any of the fundamental problems [in Thailand] ... and the constitution won't succeed in doing that either. The day of reckoning is just being delayed.
Originally published in Bangkok Post
Originally published in The Interpreter