What the hell is going on in Thailand?
The Economist — and the Thai government, apparently — seems stumped about the latest violence in the south of Thailand: On Thursday, hundreds of extra troops poured into southern Thailand to try to pacify the region. The trouble is, the authorities still do not seem to have any clear idea whom they are fighting or ...
The Economist -- and the Thai government, apparently -- seems stumped about the latest violence in the south of Thailand:
The Economist — and the Thai government, apparently — seems stumped about the latest violence in the south of Thailand:
On Thursday, hundreds of extra troops poured into southern Thailand to try to pacify the region. The trouble is, the authorities still do not seem to have any clear idea whom they are fighting or why the violence has escalated so quickly. At various times, different officials have described the attackers as Muslim separatists, mafiosi, and arms smugglers. Some have accused parliamentarians from Mr [Prime Minister Shinawatra] Thaksin’s own party of abetting the insurgents, while others have criticised Malaysia for allowing suspects to escape over the border. Many consider the militants terrorists, and have hinted at connections with outfits like al-Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiah. Mr Thaksin, however, insists that the problem is purely domestic. Though pictures of the dead militants in the Thai media showed that many had Islamic slogans on their clothes, the prime minister insisted that they were nothing more than drug-crazed “bandits” on a crime spree, blaming local politicians for supporting them. But he has provided so many pat explanations of the violence, and promised so many times to bring it to a swift conclusion, that his assurance is beginning to look like bluster.
Reuters reports that despite some anger among the Thai Muslim minority, the religious establishment in the country has backed the government’s show of force:
Critics were quick to question the insistence of Thaksin and his cousin and army chief, General Chaiyasidh Shinawatra, that drugs and crime rather than religious or separatist ideology lay at the root of the violence. “What the two leaders do not see, or pretend not to see, is that this is not about addiction or banditry; this is about a fanatical ideology that none of us knew existed on such a grand scale,” the Nation newspaper said in a front page editorial. In the worst violence, troops fired teargas and stormed a centuries-old mosque, killing 34 gunmen holed up inside. An angry crowd gathered to watch as soldiers dragged bodies from the bullet-riddled building. With Muslim sentiment divided between anger and support for military action at the mosque, Thailand’s top Muslim cleric, speaking on national television, backed the operation. “The authorities exercised reasonable restraint in dealing with the situation. They were patient and waited for a long time outside the mosque,” spiritual leader Sawat Sumalayasak said. “It was reasonable for the government to take such action.” Others disagreed. “If the officers had waited for another couple of days they could have caught them alive, but they didn’t. They killed them all,” Uma Meah, secretary of the Central Islamic Committee of Pattani, said after a meeting of residents.
It’s far from clear just what is driving the violence in the south. I’ll leave it to the commenters to suggest whether the problem is local or transnational. UPDATE: Hmmm… Indonesia is having problems with Muslim extremists as well. Expect to read “Muslim extremism in Southeast Asia” stories for the next week.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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