MANILA SHOWS HOW TO TALK TO REBELS
IN THE WAKE of the Philippines signing a historic peace agreement with Muslim rebels last week, many are hoping Thailand’s peace talks with separatists in the deep South will reach the same conclusion soon.
The Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last Thursday.
However, Thailand’s peace dialogue with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) cannot compare with the Philippine deal in various ways, notably policymaker sincerity, resource pooling, participation, elimination of self-serving political gains, respecting differences and harmonious co-existence. The deal signed in Manila also came after 17 years of talks.
Ahmad Zamzamin bin Hashim, former director of Malaysia’s national intelligence agency, who had acted as a facilitator in the peace dialogue between Thailand’s National Security Council and the BRN, seems to only be doing a “road show” for the dialogue’s “success”.
On the other hand, former Border Co-ordinating Centre chief General Aekkanit Muensawat regards information gathered from all sides as suggesting that on the first anniversary since the dialogue started that it has failed, and if it were to proceed, it would require major restructuring.
What can be gained from peace talks?
General Aekkanit explained that the Thai government, the BRN and Malaysia, as facilitator, stood to gain the following:
Thailand’s gains include:
1. Allowing deep South residents and the world to see Thailand is intent on solving the unrest by peaceful means.
2. Opening an official channel for talks because talks have been conducted unofficially.
The BRN’s gains include:
1. Being elevated from an illegal separatist movement and thus gaining more support from various countries.
2. Gaining local Muslim support to liberate Pattani.
3. Raising the awareness of all sides about an autonomous administrative zone or a special administrative zone as well as the right to self determination.
Malaysia’s gains include:
1. Boosting the ruling party’s image through its facilitator role (the February 28, 2013 signing for the Thailand-BRN peace dialogue was near the date of Malaysia’s general election).
2. Project Malaysia’s leadership among Asean countries in regards to peace promotion in the region, as Malaysia aspires to be Asean’s leader.
3. If the peace dialogue led to an autonomous administrative zone or a special administrative zone, this would benefit Malaysia’s defence strategies because there would be a buffer zone for the country.
Lessons from the past year
According to General Aekkanit, the lessons from the past year of peace dialogue include the following:
1. The Thai side still does not discuss or consult enough with related national security agencies such as the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Internal Security Operations Command, the military forces and the National Intelligence Agency, which led to a lack of participation from these agencies.
2. Thailand still seems to work without sufficient knowledge, peace dialogue-making experience and preparedness.
3. Before each peace talk session, the Thai team didn’t seem to talk among themselves much, hence it seemed more like a monthly meeting rather than negotiations.
4. There was no chance for the Thai side and the BRN to have meals together, hence trust could be harder to instil.
5. The Thai team wasn’t given a mandate from the Thai government, hence the talks weren’t so successful because they could not decide on what minimum requests from the opposite side were acceptable, hence Thailand could only listen.
6. The minimum requests that were deemed acceptable were not set beforehand.
7. The NSC is a policy-level agency, not an operative-level agency. When Thai internal politics became severe, the NSC chief’s attention was diverted to tackle them, instead of the peace dialogue and southern unrest.
8. The peace dialogue process still lacks channels to inform the public, hence it lacks public support.
A new agency to be responsible
General Aekkanit suggests the follow solutions:
1. Make the talks official and use Malaysia as a facilitator or even a mediator in future.
This proposal seems to go against Thailand’s stance that the southern unrest was an internal affair. So to elevate the issue as an international problem, the Thai government should explain to countries, especially Muslim countries, that it still regards the issue as an internal affair and aims to solve it by peaceful means.
2. Establish a new agency that is specifically responsible for the peace dialogue and this agency could be directly under the PM’s Office, which would be similar to what the Philippines did.
The Thai parliament could also set up a standing committee to follow the peace dialogue progress.
3. If the new agency were not established, the ISOC should be given this job because it is a national security agency. There should also be a think-tank with experts providing advice.