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Thailand: Malay-Muslim Insurgency and the Dangers of Intractability
Thailand: Malay-Muslim Insurgency and the Dangers of Intractability
Thai EOD personnel inspect the site of a bomb attack in Thailand's troubled southern province of Pattani, on 5 July 2016. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthamon
Briefing 148 / Asia

Proses Dialog Thailand Selatan: Tiada Daya Gerak

Gambaran Keseluruhan

Proses dialog damai antara kerajaan tentera Thai dan beberapa orang pemimpin pemisah Melayu Muslim yang berada di luar negara telah menemui jalan buntu. Pengeboman serentak yang berlaku pada bulan Ogos yang lalu di beberapa tempat peranginan yang terletak di luar wilayah konflik selama ini menyerupai pengeboman yang dilakukan oleh kumpulan pemisah. Pada masa yang sama, keadaan ini juga menunjukkan bahawa pendekatan kerajaan untuk menahan pemberontakan tidak berhasil. Suruhanjaya Negara untuk Kedamaian dan Ketertiban (National Council for Peace and Order, diringkaskan sebagai NCPO), yang merampas kuasa melalui kudeta pada tahun 2014, menyatakan sokongannya terhadap dialog damai untuk mengakhiri pemberontakan. Tetapi NCPO juga mengelakkan sebarang  komitmen yang serius, dan Perdana Menteri sendiri sering mempersoalkan keberhasilan proses dialog tersebut. Kumpulan pemberontak utama telah menolak proses dialog. Sejauh mana organisasi payung yang didirikan pada tahun 2015 untuk tujuan perundingan dapat mengawal pejuang di lapangan adalah tidak jelas. Pengagihan kuasa dalam sistem politik yang menghormati jati diri dan hasrat orang Melayu-Muslim mungkin dapat menyelesaikan konflik ini, sekali gus dapat mengekalkan kesatuan negara. Namun begitu proses damai semakin mendekati jalan buntu, kerana kedua-dua pihak, iaitu kerajaan dan kumpulan bersenjata, lebih menggemari permusuhan daripada bertolak-ansur. Seharusnya, pengeboman yang berlaku di wilayah-wilayah selatan bahagian atas harus ditasfsirkan oleh kerajaan sebagai ingatan supaya berdialog dan mencari jalan penyelesaian terhadap masalah konflik secara menyeluruh.   

Sejak rampasan kuasa, NCPO sibuk dengan memerintah negara yang berpecah-belah dalam politik, dan ketidakpastian sedang menjelma, menjelang titik akhir pemerintahan Baginda Raja Bhumibol Adulyadej selama tujuh dekad ini. Pihak tentera pernah menentang proses dialog damai di bawah kerajaan bekas Perdana Menteri yingluck Shinawatra pada tahun 2013. Tetapi NCPO telah memulakan proses dialog semula, dan meminta Malaysia supaya menjadi fasilitator. Walau bagaimanapun, nampaknya NCPO juga terhimpit dengan dilemanya. Mereka perlu menunjukkan kepada masyarakat tempatan dan antarabangsa bahawa mereka sedang melakukan sesuatu yang benar. Tetapi mereka juga dihantui ketakutan bahawa  proses dialog akan memberikan legitimasi kepada kumpulan pemisah, dan membuka jalan untuk campur tangan daripada masyarakat antarabangsa, yang akhirnya akan menyebabkan pemisahakn negara. 

Pada bulan Mac 2016, setelah dua pertemuan penuh dan tiga pertemuan teknikal, tim dialog pihak NCPO dan Mara Patani - Majlis Syura Patani, organisasi payung yang ditubuhkan pada 2015 untuk bernegosiasi dengan Bangkok - telah mencapai persetujuan awal tentang Kerangka Rujukan (Terms of Reference, ToR) yang terdiri daripada 8 perkara. Persetujuan ini dijangka membuka laluan bagi pertemuan secara rasmi. Namun pada bulan yang berikut, tentera tiba-tiba melucutkan Setiausaha Tim Dialog Thai dari jawatannya, tokoh yang selama ini bekerja keras untuk mencapai persetujuan mengenai ToR. Dalam pertemuan pada 27 April di Kuala Lumpur, pihak delegasi Thai enggan menandatangani ToR dengan alasan bahawa pihaknya perlu menyemak dokumen tersebut, seta mempersoalkan pendirian Mara mengenai keterlibatannya dalam perbincangan secara rasmi. Walaupun pertemuan selanjutnya dijadualkan pada 2 September, proses dialog masih berada pada tahap permulaan awal yang tidak rasmi.  

Berbanding dengan usaha untuk mencari penyelesaian dengan para pemimpin kumpulan bersenjata di luar negeri, NCPO lebih menggemari pendekatan meyakinkan para militan di lapangan supaya menyerah diri. NCPO juga telah menyekat kegiatan politik di seluruh negara, menggantungkan pilihan raya dan mengehadkan kebebasan warga sivil sebagai usaha membina asas pemerintahan jangka panjang setelah pilihan raya yang dijadualkan pada akhir tahun 2017. Desakan NCPO supaya pemberontak harus menghentikan keganasan, dan perlu bekerja sama untuk kedamaian tidak bermakna, kerana NCPO sendiri tidak membenarkan sebarang aktiviti dalam bidang politik. Dengan masyarakat sivil di wilayah konflik semakin tertekan oleh pihak pemerintah, harapan bagi lahirnya tekanan dari masyarakat supaya proses dialog yang sejati diadakan menjadi semakin nipis.    

Perbincangan serius juga terhalang oleh kurangnya kesatuan dan persaingan merebut kuasa dalam tentera. Penyokong proses dialog menegaskan bahawa sekiranya proses ini berjalan dengan baik, kumpulan-kumpulan bersenjata yang lain juga akan menyertai proses ini. Manakala ramai pemerhati tidak yakin sama ada Mara Patani dapat bersuara bagi pihak kebanyakan pejuang di lapangan. Beberapa orang anggota kumpulan bersenjata utama, Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, BRN, menduduki posisi sebagai pemimpin dalam Mara Patani, tetapi kedudukan mereka tidak disahkan oleh pucuk pimpinan kumpulan tersebut. BRN telah mempertikaikan keikhlasan pihak NCPO, dan menolak dengan tegas sebarang perbincangan tanpa pemerhati asing. Syarat ini menambahkan ketakutan pihak kerajaan bahawa proses ini akan dibawa ke masyarakat antarabangsa. Setakat ini tiada sebarang tanda yang menunjukkan bahawa Islamic State (IS) atau penyokong ideologi jihad sejagat mempengaruhi para militan Melayu yang bersifat etno-nasionalis.

Perpecahan serta terbatasnya kemampuan tentu sekali merupakan cabaran yang besar, tetapi cabaran yang lebih besar ialah kurangnya tekad dalam berunding untuk mencari penyelesaian. Nampaknya NCPO hanya berpuas hati dengan ‘tiruan’ proses dialog, dan menentang sebarang penyelesaian yang melibatkan pengagihan kuasa politik. BRN juga tidak pernah maju ke pentas politik yang dapat menjadi asas untuk perbincangan. Mara Patani masih belum menunjukkan kemamuan dalam mengawal keadaan di lapangan. Keadaan jalan buntu ini belum cukup genting sehingga dapat menggesa semua pihak supaya mencari jalan penyelesaian melalui perundingan dengan serius. Walau bagaimanapun, pengeboman yang berlaku pada 11 dan 12 Agus yang lau jelas menunjukkan kemampuan para militan dalam menyebabkan kerugian yang lebih besar terhadap nyawa dan harta. Kerajaan harus meneydari ancaman ini, dan perlu mempertimbangkan pendekatannya terhadap dialog damai. Para militan juga wajar menyedari bahawa peluasan wilayah konflik dan serangan terhadap pusat peranginan akan membawa kepada tindak balas ketenteraan yang lebih keras dari Bangkok, dan mereka akan menjadi sasaran kutukan keras daripada masyarakat antarabangsa.

Commentary / Asia

Thailand: Malay-Muslim Insurgency and the Dangers of Intractability

The Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency in Thailand’s South has little in common with jihadism, but persistent instability could provide openings for foreign jihadists who thrive on  disorder. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Second Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to encourage Bangkok to accept some degree of decentralisation and to implement measures that can diminish radicalisation.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – Second Update.

The occurrence of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-linked or inspired violence in Jakarta, Mindanao, and Puchong, near Kuala Lumpur, has raised fears of a new era of transnational jihadist terrorism in South East Asia. To date, ISIS has used Thailand as a transit point rather than a target; indeed, there is no known case of a Thai citizen joining the group. But the persistence of a Malay-Muslim separatist insurgency in the kingdom’s southernmost provinces, where roughly 7,000 people have been killed since 2004, is a source of concern among some Western governments, Thai officials, local people and even some within the militant movement. Repeated, if poorly substantiated reports of ISIS activity in Thailand, from foreign fighters transiting through Bangkok to allegations of Malaysian ISIS members buying small arms in southern Thailand, have prompted questions about the insurgency’s susceptibility to radicalisation along transnational jihadist lines. Yet even absent intervention by foreign jihadists, the insurgency’s own dynamics could lead to greater violence.

Thus far, the separatist insurgency has had little in common with jihadism. Rooted in the country’s nearly two million Malay Muslims, who constitute a majority in the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, its aspirations are nationalist in nature: liberation of Patani, the homeland they consider to have been colonised by Thailand, and defence of Patani-Malay identity against so-called Siamification. Moreover, the insurgency draws support from traditionalist Islamic leaders, upholders of a syncretic, Sufi-inflected Islam who oppose the rigid views propagated by jihadists. Even the relatively small Salafi minority rejects ISIS’s brutal tactics and apocalyptic vision; some among them claim that ISIS is a product of Western machinations. For Barisan Revolusi Nasional Patani Melayu (BRN, Patani-Malay National Revolutionary Front), the main Malay-Muslim militant group, in other words, association with transnational jihadists would risk cutting them off from their base while triggering greater isolation. It could also internationalise efforts to defeat them.

Dangers of an Intractable Conflict

Yet perpetuation of the conflict risks altering its trajectory which, in turn, threatens to change the nature of the insurgency. In principle, this could potentially open opportunities for foreign jihadists, who have proven adept at exploiting other protracted conflicts. That remains for now a theoretical threat: little evidence thus far suggests jihadist penetration in Southern Thailand. As noted, neither the insurgency nor the broader Malay Muslim community has shown any inclination toward jihadism.

Without progress in peace talks or an inclusive dialogue, insurgents might resort to more dramatic acts of violence.

Without progress in peace talks or an inclusive dialogue, insurgents might resort to more dramatic acts of violence however. They already have shown they can stage attacks outside the deep south, as they did in August 2016 when they conducted a series of coordinated, small-scale bombings in seven resort areas, wounding European tourists among others. Militant groups also might splinter, with rival factions competing to demonstrate their capabilities to potential supporters and the government. In turn, increased violence or attacks against civilians – particularly outside the conflict zone – could fuel an anti-Islamic backlash and stimulate Buddhist nationalism, creating tensions between Muslim and Buddhist communities throughout the country. A prolonged conflict means more young Malay Muslims will have grown up in a polarised society and experienced traumatic events. This could split a more pragmatic elder generation from a more militant younger one.

Stalled dialogue

The surest way to reduce these risks would be to bring the insurgency to an end – a task at present both daunting and long-term. The ruling, military-led National Council for Peace and Order, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, is engaged in a dialogue with MARA Patani (Majlis Syura Patani, Patani Consultative Council), an umbrella group of five militant organisations whose leaders are in exile. But many perceive the dialogue, facilitated by Malaysia, essentially as a public-relations exercise through which Bangkok intends to signal its willingness to peacefully resolve the conflict without making any concessions. Likewise, there are doubts that MARA can control most fighters: although the BRN has the top three slots in MARA Patani’s leadership, BRN’s information department insists these members have been suspended and do not speak for the organisation.

After a year-and-a-half, the MARA process remains stuck. In April 2016, the Thai government balked at signing a Terms of Reference agreement to govern talks, which remain unofficial. At the time, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha argued that MARA lacked the necessary status to act as the government’s counterpart. After a hiatus, the two sides resumed their meetings in August and, in February 2017, they agreed in principle to establish “safety zones”, district-level compacts in which neither side would target civilians. They also agreed to form inclusive committees to investigate violent incidents, although details still need to be worked out and they have yet to announce a district for pilot implementation.

For its part, BRN insists on impartial international mediation and third-party observers as conditions for formal talks with Bangkok. In a 10 April 2017 statement, BRN’s information department reiterated these prerequisites and noted that negotiating parties themselves should design the process, a jab at Malaysia’s role as facilitator. Demonstrating that they exercised control over fighters, the BRN implemented an unannounced lull in attacks from 8 to 17 April, a period preceded and followed by waves of coordinated attacks across several districts.

In late June 2017, a senior Thai official said that the government might re-examine the issue of the identity of its counterpart, a rare public sign of high-level deliberation and possible flexibility. Although this could suggest willingness to consider BRN’s conditions – including the sensitive question of Malaysia’s role and that of any internationalisation – which it previously had rejected outright, it could also constitute another delaying tactic.

The National Council for Peace and Order apparently still clings to the conviction that the conflict can be resolved through attrition, enemy surrenders and economic development, without any fundamental change in state/society relations in the deep south. The military, whose entire ethos is based on the image of national unity and whose senior officers tend to view enhanced local power as a first step toward partition, is loath to contemplate autonomy or political decentralisation. Since taking power, it has suppressed once-lively public debate about decentralisation models, such as proposals for elected governors or sub-regional assemblies.

Options for the European Union

In this context, one of the international community’s longer-term goals should be to encourage Bangkok to accept some degree of political decentralisation as fully compatible with preservation of national unity. For the European Union (EU) and those EU member states that are engaged in the country such as Germany, in particular, an important objective would be to encourage the government to establish a more inclusive dialogue and to support it, when possible, through capacity building for both parties. Admittedly, their influence with the National Council for Peace and Order is limited. After the 2014 coup, the EU suspended official visits to and from Thailand, as well as negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement and the Partnership Cooperation Agreement, pending a return to elected government. Restrictions on popular representation, codified in the new constitution and laws, mean that even a general election, now scheduled for 2018, might not satisfy the EU’s requirement of functioning democratic institutions. Moreover, Bangkok is not yet prepared to countenance an EU role.

[The] EU and member states should urge the Thai government to restore civil liberties and freedom of expression to allow more open discussion and debate.

That aside, relations with Bangkok are not hostile; Thailand and the EU held a Senior Officials Meeting 9 June 2017 in Brussels, the first since 2012. When conditions permit, the EU should be well placed to support a peace process, given perceptions in Thailand of its impartiality. In the meantime, the EU and member states should continue encouraging the parties to deal with each other constructively. This could include sharing experiences in sub-national conflict resolution and political power devolution or offering training on matters such as negotiations, communication and conflict management.

In the near term, the EU and member states should urge the Thai government to restore civil liberties and freedom of expression to allow more open discussion and debate. Among other benefits, such steps would facilitate a public conversation within Malay Muslim communities that, in turn, might diminish risks of radicalisation. Already, the EU backs civil-society organisations’ endeavours to promote community and youth engagement in peace building. This ought to continue.