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Thailand’s Muslim insurgency

World Affairs Talk | Jan 28, 2007

When General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the first-ever Muslim head of the Thai Army, seized power through a bloodless coup on September 19, 2006, expert opinions and commentaries flooded the news media around the world over hope of bringing peace in the insurgency-plagued provinces of southern Thailand. Even the US, which has been steady in reproachful any military coup in recent years, kept quiet. President Bush even nodded in agreement when he told the interim Thai Prime Minister "he understood the Thai coup."

Thai academicians took a leading role in defending the coup. They wrote commentaries and made statements praising the military takeover and expressing hope for peace in the South. Praise for a military-lead coup replacing a democratically elected government is not a usual phenomenon as it appears in the case of Thailand. Given the experiences of Islamic insurgency and violence from Mindanao, Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina; it is surprising to expect a peaceful solution from the Army.

Though the Muslim coup leader General Sonthi said that solving the insurgency in the South was his priority; the insurgency still continues unabatedly. Interim Prime Minister General Surayud Chulanont made vigorous efforts to stop the ongoing violence through repeated offers of concessions and privileges to the Muslims in southern Thailand. The immediate response was a series of fresh attacks by the Muslim insurgents. The General then offered autonomy for the region, which was spurned by the insurgents with a series of violent attacks as well. The prime minister even made an offer to allow the application of Islamic Sharia laws in an otherwise secular democratic country; this offer was also rejected by the insurgents with increased violent attacks. In sum, military backed Interim government offered a number of lucrative terms to the Muslim insurgents but all has been refused by waves of violence from their part.

Muslims leaving in the southern part of Thailand allege that decade long oppression and marginalization is the cause for the insurgency. If this is true, then the offers given by the military backed Interim government are more than what they desire. Why is the series of violence than? May be what the Muslims have in mind is a separate nation based on Islamic principals as the people involved in these insurgencies are the Muslims and their common binding factor is Islam.

None of the ‘Islamist secessionist campaigns’ in non-Muslim countries around the world in the recent decades achieved any peaceful solutions. In cases like Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, they attained autonomy, and eventually independence in time to follow. Thai government should learn from the experiences in Kashmir, Kosovo and Mindanao that nothing short of providing an independent Islamist state can stop the insurgency. Thailand therefore should either choose between giving away the southern Muslim provinces for immediate peace or engage in a decades-long battle like the governments of India and the Philippines in Kashmir and Mindanao, respectively.

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