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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

泰国南部的和平对话:缺乏牵引力

发生在泰国七个旅游城镇的八月爆炸事件预示了冲突区域的扩散。与此同时,和平对话的进程也失去了势头。若要令和谈重返正轨,分散的武装分子必须放弃企图通过暴力获胜,且政府必须承诺提供一个全面的解决方案,包括分权制度和认可深南地区作为马来穆斯林的身份。

概述

泰国军政府和部分流亡中的马来穆斯林分离主义领袖之间的和平对话陷入了僵局。2016年8月,几个地处深南的旅游区遭到了协调式的爆炸袭击,且其都并非发生在此前就动乱频繁的区域。这些爆炸事件带有分离主义分子的特征,还意味着政府对暴乱的控制手段并无效果。在2014年政变中得权的(NCPO)声称,其支持但不承诺通过对话结束暴乱;泰国总理曾就谈判提出质疑,且主要的暴力团伙也拒绝对话。该团伙是2015年为与政府谈判而建立的联盟,其究竟控制了多少成员却是不得而知。建立分权式政体不仅可以为马来穆斯林带来民族认同感和志向,还能以此缓和冲突并维护国家统一。然而,政府和反动武装分子都保持敌对而不妥协的态度,双方的谈判僵局也因此难以打破。八月发生在深南地区的爆炸事件则应督促政府为达成全面协议而寻求对话。

自夺权以来,国家和平秩序委员会便为了治理这个政治分歧的国家而费尽心思,随着国王普密蓬•阿杜德七十年的统治即将结束,泰国也渐临着不确定因素。尽管军方反对由英拉·西瓦拉政府于2013年开启的对话进程,但国家和平秩序委员会仍应允了会重新促成对话,并邀请了马来西亚为此进行协调。然而,国家和平秩序委员会也面临着矛盾:一方面,其需要向当地人民和国际社会证明它在做正事,另一方面,其也担心和平对话会予以分裂主义分子合法地位,并为国际介入和最终国家分裂铺路。

2016年3月,在经过两次全体会议和三轮技术洽谈后,国家和平秩序委员会的谈判队伍与“马拉北大年”(MARA Patani)——“北大年舒拉议会”(Majlis Syura Patani)是反动者为与曼谷当局进行谈判而于2015年建立的联盟——初步达成一致,并同意在八项条例(ToR)的基础上,开启正式对话的通道。但仅一个月之后,泰国军方便突然调走了谈判队伍的干事,而八项条例正是在此干事领导下达成的。在四月二十七日于吉隆坡召开的会议中,泰方谈判队伍以需要重审文件为由拒绝签字,并质疑马拉北大年参加正式对话的资格。尽管双方在9月2日再次举行了会议,但和平对话的进程仍停留在非正式的初级阶段。

在措施采取上,国家和平秩序委员会更倾向于说服武装分子投降,而不是与其流亡领导人达成协议。政府在全国范围内抑制了政治参与、暂停了选举并剥夺了公民自由。另外,国家和平秩序委员会照承诺应在2017年后期举行大选,因此上述举措亦是在为选后的长期持政奠定基础。而其对政治活动的禁止也使政府就反动分子应放弃暴力、为和平变革努力的论调变成了空话。随着当地的公民社会受到更多压制,依靠民众意愿来推动坦诚对话的前景也愈加渺茫。

武装分子内部的分裂和狭隘主义也限制了两方展开实质对话。支持对话的成员认为一旦该进程展现出好势头,那其它派系自会参加。但亦由很多观察者质疑了马拉北大年当下代表大规模武装分子的能力。“民族革命阵线”(Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani, BRN)是其中主要的反动组织,一些马拉北大年的高层声虽称隶属于该组织,但却未得到组织领导层的认可。民族革命阵线质疑了国家和平秩序委员会的诚意,并明确坚持和谈必须要有外国观察员在场。这也进而加深了泰国当局对国际介入的顾虑。另外,目前尚无迹象表明,伊斯兰国(IS)或国际圣战主义者与泰国的马来民族独立主义武装分子之间存在勾结。

分裂的局势和谈判能力受限虽对和谈造成了重大的障碍,但更迫切的挑战却是双方缺乏协商的决心。国家和平秩序委员会看似仅仅有意做出一副对话的姿态,并反对任何涉及分权的解决办法;民族革命阵线尚未进化成一个可作为对话基础的政治平台;而马拉北大年则还未展示出其在地面的影响力。目前困境的严峻程度尚且不足以令各方求和心切,并诉诸于紧急谈判;然而8月11日到12日发生的爆炸事件却显示出武装分子在对人命、财产和经济造成更大损害上的能力。政府应当认识到这种威胁并重新考虑对话模式。而武装分子则应意识到,若任战火蔓延并继续针对旅游区,那他们不仅将面对曼谷当局不余遗力的武力回应,还会备受国际社会的谴责。

曼谷/布鲁塞尔,2016年9月21日

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.