There is no political will to bring an end to the southern insurgency because our leaders see it as localised and manageable, despite daily deaths
For a man who seems reluctant to go to the deep South, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung always succeeds in getting himself associated with developments in the restive region. Chalerm shoots himself in the foot with some off-the-wall statements about how the conflict could be resolved and how others have got it all wrong.
Often, while trying to calm the media and the public in his capacity as the government’s security boss, Chalerm seems to be unaware of certain security matters, nationally and internationally. The fact that he is one of Thailand’s top security chiefs makes this a point of concern.
Chalerm has a response to everything, even on how the conflict in the Malay-speaking South should be reported. In fact, if he had it his way, it wouldn’t be reported at all – at least not accurately, anyway.
With regard to the conflict in the Muslim-majority deep South, Chalerm last month said something along the lines that if the media stopped presenting news about the insurgent violence, the situation would improve.
While it may be true that conflict and insurgency are “communicative actions” and that insurgents may rely on the media to propagate “information warfare”, the trouble in Thailand’s deep South is nowhere near that point. The theatre of violence remains in the three southernmost provinces, and much of the violence appears to be tit-for-tat between the security forces and the insurgents.
And because the conflict remains localised, Thai policy-makers and national leaders remain half-hearted about formulating a bold and meaningful policy to change the situation for fear that it will cost them political capital.
One can also say that the Malay-Muslim insurgents have failed to demonstrate to the Thai state that its national security is at stake. This explains why policy-makers continue to treat it as a regional matter.
But let’s not bark up the wrong tree. We should look at the problem for what it is.
Just recently Chalerm announced that he would be visiting Malaysia and Indonesia to seek their assistance in resolving the conflict in the South. Let’s hope he doesn’t come up with promises that he or the country cannot keep.
Chalerm has also picked on a recently released report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) that ranked Thailand eighth in a global peace index of 158 countries affected by terrorism.
Chalerm immediately assumed that the IEP didn’t know the difference between ongoing political protests and the conflict in the Malay-speaking South, and that the report may have combined the two problems to come up with an exaggerated figure and global ranking.
With regard to reports in the Western media quoting Western intelligence agencies linking a stockpile of chemicals discovered in Thailand in January 2012 to Hezbollah, Chalerm dismissed any suggestion that Thailand might be a hub for terrorists, or even just a place visited by members of international terrorist organisations. He spoke as if the country is not part of this world, geographically anyway. His explanation was that Thailand is a Buddhist country and we don’t take sides because we’re friends with everybody.
Remember how the Thaksin Shinawatra government said the same thing over and over in 2003, and then all of a sudden Riduan Issamudin – also known as “Hambali”, the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombing – was arrested in Ayutthaya? It was also revealed later that Hambali and his associates made their way to Bangkok, where they cooked up the plan for the Bali attack.
Chalerm doesn’t have to look too far back to learn from the past to understand what happened.
Sadly, what is lacking from him and others is the political will and courage to call a spade a spade. And so they think they can get away with insulting the intelligence of the general public – the very people who put their trust in them to look after our national security.