Thailand has been plagued by terrorists for decades, almost a century even.
The people of especially the three most southern provinces – Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat – lives like this: Almost all news from their part of the world involves bombs and someone dying. They attend funerals frequently. There are bullet holes in their kids’ classrooms. And no one goes about anywhere after dark. These people live in fear.
Despite the high number of casualties – 4000 in the last five years – shifting Thai governments have been unable to stop the terror. Rather, it has managed to get the terrorism aimed at itself, leaving the people of the area largely without authorities, because talking to a police officer can literally get you killed. And people tend to try and avoid that.
The terrorists are an undefined group under two loosely structured movements: Barisan Revolusi National Patani (BRN) and Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO), two groups of insurgents, who fight for an independent Muslim state in the area. Their weapons are bone chilling and range from setting booby traps with human heads as bait over roadside bombs to torture.
But however grisly the stories from the three provinces may be, the terrorists today are having no trouble gathering support for their cause.
Because they are smart about their terrorism.
Firstly – they contain the fighting within the border, thus making it a purely national problem. Secondly, they keep it out of the tourist areas and major cities, thus making it very easy to avoid international attention. And third – they are fighting for a cause, not fighting against an enemy, which makes it easy to sympathize.
It is the Thai government who has made itself the enemy to be fought; From official side, virtually all attempts to quash the insurgency, has been to install lots and lots of military and refuse to negotiate with anyone. It has been a maneuver in saving face by not giving into the insurgents and putting in more and more military. Today, there are 30,000 national troops posted in Patani and more to come, according to the country’s Foreign Minister.
The massive military response have shaped the conflict into one with two clear sides and lots of weapon. Negotiation would probably be the most productive way to move forward, but having already put in so much military, a non-military approach at this point would cause the government to lose face.
So what to do? At this point it really does seem like the terrorists have the Thai Government backed into a corner and made the world as black and white as only the act of violence can make it. And national pride or not – for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, it comes down to this:
Do you want to save face or do you want to save lives?