The Thailand Conflict

Over the years, there has been constant conflict in Thailand. Thailand has experienced conflict for over a hundred years. This is to say that the country has experienced tension all through its recent history. The current conflict commenced on the year 2004 when a crowd of more than fifty Muslims activists killed soldier combatants, stole their weapons and burnt down a number of schools in Narathiwat province.  The Thai government became concerned about the increasing conflict in the Narathiwat province since tension in the area was no longer manageable. The Prime minister at that time was Thaksin Shinawatra. During his reign, he declared military rule in three provinces, which include, Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. By positioning all responsible police in the region, Thaksin aimed at diminishing the tensions and criminal rate.  Regrettably, the situation was beyond the control for the police force. The violence escalated with each passing day. The skirmishes in Thailand have a historical origin and do not seem as if they will end in the near future.

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Currently, the conflicts are the most confronting issue for Thailand’s internal security. As from 2004, thousands were injured. Also, more than 5000 people were killed all through the conflict between the Thai security personnel and the rebels.  The rebels have shot innocent civilians; bombed public places such military areas, schools, hospitals and police stations. This has led to many innocent people been killed such as lecturers, students, civilians and the police. Nevertheless, the Thai authority has reported that the rebels mostly pursue the monks, and Buddhist teachers.

Various government agencies and independent groups have reviewed the situation. Scholars and political analysts have given different views on the issue. In general, it can be stated that the current increase of tension is due to external and internal factors. However, the Thai government cannot shed light on which groups are responsible for the attacks.  Some scholars believe that foreigners, especially tourists are central in the escalation of the conflict. There might be many potential factors that might have led to the increase in conflict in the Southern part of Thailand. Nonetheless, the most obvious reason seems to be ethno-religious identity brought about by Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhist government.

A Short History of the Region

The history of the Patani region is very vital to understand the tensions in Thailand.  In 1350, the Patani was an independent kingdom. The kingdom was one of the central trading areas in the Southern parts of Asia. The Islam religion was dominant at this time. At present, most of the people are Muslims with Malay ethnicity. They converse in their local dialect, Malay which is also known as Jawi. Patani played a vital role in producing Islamic scholars in the region, and it was also an important region for trade. With time, the Pattani reign weakened. Thereafter, the Siamese government used indirect rule to govern the Pattani region. The government split Pattani into seven independent states and put in place rivals elites to govern the states under the surveillance of the Southern city of Thai.  This was the turning point of the association between the Thai state and the Malay region. Pattani got officially captured by the Siam in 1909 under the Siamese treaty.

At the moment, the Pattani region consists of the northern part on Malaysia and four other provinces of Thailand; Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and some sections of Satun. As a result of the separation of Pattani, there have been a number of rebellions against the government of Thai. Most of the rebellions against the government is through uncoordinated groups and on an individual basis.  The problem arises from the fact that the Malay-Muslim want to retain both their identity and religion and not from the belief that they want the region back. For several years, the Thai government has tried to integrate the Malay-Muslim into the Thai state, but the Malay-Muslims perceive this as a potential threat to their identity and religion. This issue has led to a number of conflicts that have prevailed ever since Thailand captured the southern states.

The Rebellious Forces in the Violence

The revolutionary movement in Thailand has a series of irregularity. While the revolution for Israel-Palestine conflict has clear goals, it not clear what the rebels in Thailand want. At some point, the rebels demanded that the autonomous law should be incorporated. At some other point, they demanded that the government should proclaim the region sovereign or install order in the provinces. The most brazen allegations were the demands that the government ought to create a different Muslim country in the middle of the three regions in conflict.  In general, the allegations of the revolutionary fundamentals have not been clearly formulated yet.

The Muslim Insurgent Force

One distinct element of the armed conflict is the fact that the government and the whole of the international community cannot define exactly whom the basis of conflict.  This is to say that the insurgents used skillful maneuvering tactics to conceal their identities. Somehow, there is no common opinion of the analyst when it comes to analyzing this area of conflict.  Some analysts believe that the attacks are as a result of the local traditional rebel groups of Thailand such as Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO). Others believe the conflict is due to the Barisan Rivals Nasional (BRN) or the military elements of the Ronda Kumpulan Kecil. Yet others believe that it is due to the religious based movements in order to incorporate Muslim dictatorship. There is a probability that the Muslim dictatorship has potential to rule using the Muslim law or use the sharia law on the southern part of Thailand.

Ever since the 11th of 2001, most of the scholars have adopted a radical view of the condition. Some of the scholars believe that the international terrorist groups are part of the ongoing conflict. Most of them believe that the conflict is due to external forces where foreigners influence the rebels. To be precise, the equipping and training of the armed personnel is carried out by the external influential Muslim groups. For example, the 2004 rebels received preparatory limitary training at the Al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan.

In 2004, it can be recalled that most of the Muslims sent their children abroad to Muslim schools such as those in Malaysia, Brunei, India, Iran and Indonesia. The main goal for sending their children abroad to Muslim countries was to reinforce and uphold their ethnic and religious identities.  Thus, this has influenced many people to think that Muslim countries expect empathy when engaging in rebellions.  It is improper to claim that these religion educationalists are the basis for producing insurgents. In reality, Malay-Muslims are suspicious of other Muslims:

The Malay Muslims retreat from an area where there are foreigners (even other Muslims) unless they are part of their ethnic group or speak the Melayu language. Likewise, religious dialogue with regards to Islam is not enough. Rather, one has to ‘Masuk Melayu’—become Malay—to be accepted as a Muslim. This process strengthens trust with the remembrance of what happened in history. It is also strengthens the role played by the ‘Ulama or Tok gurus in declaring and asserting the ethno-religious identity of the Malay Muslim group.

This means Malay Muslims would want to hold on to their ethnic and religious identities. There is a high probability that rebel forces have nothing to do with global terrorism. Thus, this conflict is likely to be due to internal issues than external issues.

The Pattani United Liberation Origination (PULO)

First and foremost, the most likely suspect and probably the most influential rebel group in Thailand is the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO). Over the last decade, the group has become the most popular group among all the Islamic minorities in Thailand.  The central advantage of the group is that it is part of the national and the local council of Thailand.    Me Kuteh, the spiritual and military leader of PULO group is the central figure in uniting the process. The treaty was the agreement between the rebellious forces. The treaty unified the armed force from all the groups involved. The Pattani Liberation Army is to produce the unified commandment that ought to take charge over the operations.

The group’s official principle is Tribe, Religion, Motherland and Humanitarian. The group clearly stated that its goal is to fight for an independent Pattani that is free from Thai occupation and to establish an Islamic state. However, some political analyst commentators perceive the group as more likely to focus on Ethno-nationalist elements other than religious-centric aspects.

The PULO’s goal was to ‘unit all the active political groups among the Pattani people against the Thai imperialist’. Its goal was to also ‘join forces in order to fight for freedom.’  The group aims to flight the imperialists in every possible way using skill and weapons.’   This combined force might still exist at the moment. There is a possibility that they might be the same organization that causes the insurgency in the region. However, there is no proof of the fact that the POLO have been part of the conflict in 2004 and beyond.

Barisan Revolution Nasional

Barisan Revolution Nasional (BRN) was established in 1901 by Ustadz Haji Abdul Karim Hassan.  Just like the PULO, the BRN planned to fight for an autonomous Pattani. It is likely that the BRN targets the Thailand government, law enforcement forces and other apparent forms of Thai repression.

Under [the educational modification strategy in 1961] the local Islamic organizations, Pondo was to include the official Thai curriculum into their education scheme. Institutions and schools that declined to oblige were ordered to close. The policy was perceived by religious leaders in the Deep South as an effort to incorporate Muslims and to cut off the Malay identity. It was also perceived as an effort to remove any separatist attitude created by Muslim Malay schools.

There is a high possibility that the BRN are part of the insurgencies. At the moment, the rebels aim for schools that relate to the Thai government and legitimate government areas. It is most likely that the main goal is to attack any area that has a government symbol or aspect. This is because the rebels believe that the government wants to eliminate Malay Muslims Identity. ‘According to statistics, over the last eight years, 80 percent of the approximately 150 teachers killed in the attacks in the region were Buddhists.’ In addition, by aiming for the Buddhist teachers, the rebel organization can intensify the condition and indirectly put pressure on the government in order for negotiations to take place. The rebels aim for official government areas and monks who collect food in the morning. Quite a number of monks were killed in the last years. This has led to the decrease in the number of monks in the southern region. Currently, even local people are not confident to walk near public places. The violence has led to the closure of most local businesses.

The least developed regions of the community are in the provinces where the violence has increased.  The government assigns the finances to the areas where the predominant part of the population recognizes Buddhist. Due to this, it is obvious that this outcome has not been influenced by the religious motives of the law-makers, but by the Thailand state and the economically substantiated requirement to invest into the businesses located in those sections where the Buddhists took over.  Same as the other provinces in Thailand, the southernmost provinces have received government funds to improve the region. In spite of this, all funds received from the government are misused due to the high level of corruption of local authority.

The Communists Party

One of the most skeptical assumptions was the undercover actions of the pro-communist aspects of the Southern Thailand.  Although there was a number of extensive and costly investigations that took place, there was no confirmation that the communist party was part of the conflicts.  However, there are confirmations that the rebellious forces are deeply connected with the comparable religious pursuit of the Philippines with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Points of Disagreement

The scholarly experts in conjunction with the political analysts and military agreed that the main cause of the conflict of interests was the religious and ethnic grudge among the Buddhism and Muslim groups. The proceeding part of the essay will examine the factors that might have led to the increase of the military outburst in the region.

Discrimination of the Islamic Minorities

It is normal to imagine that the rebel groups and local individuals have organized a well organized and thoroughly–considered campaign spontaneously. This is to say that this form of military struggle of the Thailand Armed Forces was initially formed as a reaction to the alleged cruelty of the Muslim minorities. However, there is no evidence that the Islamic minorities of the Thailand are regularly oppressed by the government of Thailand.  International independent research groups have come up with several surveys to examine whether the oppression of the Muslims takes place. This is due to the challenging nature of this allegation which is commonly used by the rebels in Thailand to justify their actions. Similarly, the published in prints, more especially the ones issued under the sponsorships of the Freedom House claimed that oppression of the Muslim population did not take place in Thailand in the claimed period.  The reports claimed that the Islamic students have never been stopped from attending the school institutions, and the official positions were equally occupied by the Buddhist and Islamic citizens.

Thai Buddhism and Malay-Muslim Communities

It is not unusual to presume that the ethnic tension has always been the point of focus in the southern region of Thailand. There is a disparity between the Muslim group and other Thai communities. Other Thai groups categorize themselves as Thai, speak in Thai, and recognize Buddhism. On the other hand, the Muslims in the Southern Thailand identify themselves as Melayu; they speak Melayu and believe in Islamic religion.  However, ‘since the (Malay) Muslims are the minority in terms of religion, have always been anxious to   uphold their religious identity in the largely Buddhist nation’.   The most crucial issues are that opposite ethics and beliefs are part of these communities.  In addition, the Malay-Muslim citizens claim that since the Southern Provinces in Thailand is mostly Islamic, then the government of the region should be also Islamic.  On the contrary, the Buddhism groups in the area opposes the Islamic beliefs.

The efforts, duties and the challenges that the Thai Government faces in its attempt to rectify the Situation

The strategy to reduce the rebellions in Thailand was twofold in nature. The first endeavor taken by the defense minister, Chavalit, were mainly military nature.  The duty of the defense minister was to supervise the conflict in the region. However, he led an attack of a mosque in the Pattani region without considering peaceful resolution of the situation.  Consequently, compromise did not take place since the general of the government forces objected all attempts of the rebels to negotiate in order to attain peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The same vicious form of attack took place in October 2004, when the Thai military detained six Muslim protesters. Thereafter, a series of protests took place against the Thai administration. Eventually, the army shot seven people in the crowd. The main challenge was that the government forces working in the Southern Thailand at that time did not understand the local language, the culture, their religion and traditions.  Thus, poor communication skills converted to conflict.

In conclusion, the conflict between the Thailand government is mostly caused by internal issues. These internal issues can only be solved once the government and the rebels agree to compromise and negotiate on the way forward. This is an essential technique to solve the problem since external forces have only proved to worsen the situation.

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