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
Vehicle-borne IED exploded at shopping centre in Pattani 9 May, wounding around 80 civilians; smaller device exploded nearby minutes earlier; attack was first car bomb of 2017, and first to indiscriminately target Malay-Muslim civilians. Police 11 May found bound and beaten body of vehicle’s owner in Pattani’s Nong Chik district. Three bombings in Bangkok in weeks leading up to three-year anniversary of 2014 coup 22 May indicated continuing political discord: small device on Ratchadamneon Avenue injured two 5 April; 15 May bombing in front of National Theatre injured two; bomb exploded inside army-run Bangkok hospital 22 May, in room named after deputy PM and former army chief Pravit Wongsuwan, wounding 25; authorities said bombings were work of same group trying to discredit ruling National Council for Peace and Order. Large pipe bomb found near Bangkok subway station 30 May. Several arrests and prosecutions for lèse-majesté, including six arrests 29 April and five arrests 19 May in NE province Khon Kaen; UN regional human rights office expressed concern over “sharp increase” in use of law since 2014 coup. Govt continued efforts to censor online content deemed to violate lèse-majesté law, threatened Facebook with criminal charges over offending web pages.
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 Barisan Revolusi Nasional sees its struggle as] nationalist and anti-colonial. Subordinating their struggle to a forlorn agenda imposed by outsiders would be counter-productive, if not suicidal.
The militants [of the National Revolutionary Front] continue to demonstrate that they have the capabilities to launch attacks across the region despite of the security measures by the Thai state.
[The main southern Thai insurgent group BRN] perceive the current (peace) process as one driven by Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur for their own interests.
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