You are required to conduct research on political violence in what is known as Thailand’s Deep South—the four southernmost provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. The following article serves as a starting point for your research.
Background and Brief History of Insurgencies in Southern Thailand
The southern province of Thailand, also better known as Thailand’s Deep South is one of the most politically disturbed areas of Thailand. Separated from the famous tourist attractions of Thailand, the provinces of Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, have been the centres of these political insurgencies for a long period of time. Since 2004, the insurgencies have taken a worse turn with the rise of small revolutionary militant groups (Morch, 2018). There have been bombings in different parts of the provinces and have killed thousands of people as the result. Since, the last few years the political scenario has improved but there are still reports of revolts and bombings and the Thailand military is still active, patrolling the streets and installing several checkpoints at different parts of the provinces ready for action.
The purpose of this discussion is to identify the key issues and the political factors that have led to the political violence in the southernmost provinces of Thailand. This discussion will analyse the different political factors and how they been influenced for the political violence for such a long period of time. This will help the discussion to develop a better understanding of the political condition of the country and also develop possible solutions for avoiding the political violence in the future.
The political violence which had taken a worse turn from 2004 has been not a recent development but had its inception in the beginning of the 20th century when Thailand annexed The Sultanate of Patani in 1909 from the north of Malay Peninsula by a conquest and the Anglo-Siamese treaty (Morch, 2018). There have been small revolts since then and in the 1950s the revolution began to take shape against the strict military measures of Thailand. This military measures were mainly applied to control the development of the insurgencies and bring peace to the disturbed provinces. These small insurgencies developed over the decades of the 20th century and finally exploded in 2004, when there were continuous attacks over the Thai forces and the civilians as well (Abuza, 2016). This incidents were primarily done by the insurgency groups in order to gain popularity in the political scenario by spreading violence and disorder. It was also a part of the effort to disable the power of the Thai government in the southern provinces and ultimately gain control over them and separate from Thailand.
The insurgencies were identified with the jihadist revolution with the motive of establishing a religious dominance in the southern provinces. These insurgencies were led by the Salafist group, which wanted to establish an Islamic identity in the Patani province (Rajakumar, 2016). The Thai government was unprepared for such a huge uprising and were unable to counter the terrorist attacks. The counter attack was also difficult, as the jihadist groups highlighted the religious sentiments and countering them would lead to more religious uprisings from the local people too. This required tactic and military control. Moreover, there was a rivalry between the local police and the Thai military as the police was always looked down upon as the corrupt and inferior part of the system compared to the military. This non-cooperation between the security forces helped the terrorists gain an upper hand over the government and allowed then launch attacks one after the other to render the provinces ungovernable.
Salafist Jihadist Groups and Other Revolutionary Groups
Beside the Salafist jihadists there are other revolutionary groups such as the Pattani Islamic Mujahideen Movement (GMIP), Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN), and the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) which are leading the insurgencies throughout the southern provinces of Thailand. These groups have targeted the police officers and other government officials over the period of time and reportedly killed hundreds of them in order to spread the political message of violence (bangkokpost.com, 2016). Moreover, these groups have also been responsible for the killing of school teachers all over the province (aljazeera.com, 2014). Despite the government’s strict military measures in the later years of the insurgency, the terrorist attacks continued to occur, mainly through IEDs and motorcycle bombings in public places killing hundreds of people (Sandford, 2013). The fourteen years of violence till the recent date reports of more than 15164 events of violence and a death of more than 6000 people. The affected population remains the common civilians who comprise of the 90% population in the reported deaths (Morch, 2018).
There have been peace talks between the government and the BRN in 2013, but there was no considerable result (Sandford, 2013). In 2017, the BRN launched another attack, which involved two bombings in the Big C shopping mall in Pattani. More than 61 people were reportedly injured in the event which highlights the futility of the peace talks (straitstimes.com, 2017). This is primarily because of the independent demands of the different actors on the field. The Mara Patani is the unofficial group of the insurgency groups which are continuing the insurgency campaigns in the name of the interests of the people of the Southern Provinces (Morch, 2018). However, all the groups being independent bodies with different demands of freedom fail to address the unified cause of the Mara Patani. The campaign for independence has not been addressed in the peace talks as the demands have not been justified in a unified front (Rajakumar, 2016). It is essential for the Mara Patani to become a unified front in order to represent the true voices of the people from the various groups in order to bring all of them to the discussion table in an attempt to clear their agenda during the further peace talks with the government which have remained futile all the while.
The other prime factors that remain the reasons for the conflicts to continue are regional politics. The presence of the Thai forces in the Deep South and the strict military measures by Bangkok has decreased the intensity of the insurgencies in the recent times. Hence, the insurgent groups have shifted their focus on the political aspects of the region. According to reports, it is easier for the insurgent groups to draw into the militant groups highlighting the military strictness of Bangkok (Morch, 2018). Moreover, it is also reported that children who have been orphaned in the violent terrorist activities are influenced against the army and are lured into the violence so that they can revenge for their parents’ death. These type of political agendas have been constantly increasing the strengths of the militant groups (irishtimes.com, 2017). Considering these aspects and the political agendas it is anticipated that peace is unlikely to settle in the southern provinces in the recent times.
The Role of Regional Politics in Insurgencies
However, the political aspects and the outlook of the both sides of the violence open the way for several aspects that can be considered for establishing peace. It is essential to tactfully handle the situations instead of mere military measures and strict rule of law. The evidence that many of the local people have lost their faith in the Bangkok government and are considering joining the militant groups in order to save the lives of the people, should be kept in mind while formulating new decisive reforms. The essentiality to understand the demands of the people can help the government constitute large reforms. This reforms should benefit the people in a large scale so that the people understand the views of the government and slowly move away from the militant groups. Although the importance of military actions cannot be denied in places of high tension, it is more effective to draw the support of the local population to combat the insurgencies.
Further aspects such as education and religious freedom can also play a large part in tackling the violence. The primary agenda of the militant groups seem to reflect jihadi ideas which propagate the religious sentiments among the local people who are primarily followers of Islam. The education can help the local population to be aware of the political standpoints of the governing bodies and help them to understand the different issues of the political situation. Moreover, the social inclusion of the local community who are primarily driven by poverty can help them gain self-confidence and discard the religious fundamentals in the favour of a more rational approach towards life. This will help in the development of nationalistic sentiment and a decrease in the anti-Thai sentiment. It is also important to check the Thai forces from human right abuses and targeting the local population so that the people of the region can re-establish the lost trust in the military and the Bangkok government. This would lead them to move away from the militant groups and reduce their power in the provinces.
The above discussion essentially highlights the key aspects of the separatist political violence in the Thailand’s Deep South. These aspects are primarily the cultural difference between the people of the south and the people of the north. The regional population is mostly Islamic and the separatist groups focus on triggering the Islamic sentiments to create disorder in the region. The continuous killing of the governing officials and religious representatives such as monks and teachers establish their jihadi ideas. However, it can conclude that the government can take several measures to reform its policies and educate the people of its standpoint so that peace talks can be held and the different actors of the violence can be stopped from creating further insurgencies.
Abuza, Z. (2016). Violence in Thailand’s Deep South - New Mandala. Retrieved from https://www.newmandala.org/violence-thailands-deep-south/
Aljazeera.com. (2014). Teacher killed and set on fire in Thailand. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2014/03/teacher-killed-set-fire-thailand-201431494525689923.html
Bangkokpost.com. (2016). Senior police officer shot dead in Pattani. Retrieved from https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/security/824856/senior-police-officer-shot-dead-in-pattani
Irishtimes.com. (2017). Southern Thailand’s separatist violence shows no signs of ending. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/asia-pacific/southern-thailand-s-separatist-violence-shows-no-signs-of-ending-1.2952761
Morch, M. (2018). The Slow Burning Insurgency in Thailand’s Deep South. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/the-slow-burning-insurgency-in-thailands-deep-south/
Rajakumar, V. (2016). Insurgency in Southern Thailand: More Unrest Ahead?.
Sandford, S. (2013). Violence in Thailand's Deep South Escalates as Peace Talks Take Place. Retrieved from https://www.voanews.com/a/thailand-muslim-south-violence-peace-talks/1682231.html
Straitstimes.com. (2017). At least 51 injured in double bombing at department store in Pattani. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/bombs-explode-at-department-store-parking-lot-in-pattani