Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Following an ambush by Patani freedom fighters, which resulted in the deaths of two army rangers and injuries to another 4 at Nong Jik, Patani, on 11th September 2018, Lieutenant General Piyawat Narkwanit, commander of the 4th regional army, declared Nong Jik to be a “Controlled Area”. He also stated that they may bring charges against relatives (mothers, fathers, wives etc.) of anyone arrested for the ambush. So far 8 so-called suspects have been detained. The local villages have also been surrounded and locked down while everyone has to register their weapons, boats and vehicles.
This heavy-handed response by the military is typical of the junta’s mentality and a gross abuse of human rights. Collective punishment of families and communities by the military for the actions of individuals is similar to what the Nazis carried out in occupied Europe or what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. It is a form of terrorism.
The good news is that human rights lawyers and young student activists from Patani have come out to oppose such measures taken by the military. However, a number of Thai nationalist groups, including one Buddhist organisation, have tried to pressure the police to take action against the students. Patani University has also tried to put pressure on them to stop their so-called anti-state activities. Given the repressive nature of the Thai state, it is impossible to defend human rights without carrying out anti-state activities.
The fact of the matter is that the war against the Thai State is a direct result of years of oppression and human rights abuses by various Thai governments. [See https://bit.ly/2xFce7Y ]. The military junta continue to insist that the military should play a leading role in “solving” this war. They pretend that they want to bring about peace, yet their only solution is to hold talks with representatives of the insurgents with an aim to getting them to surrender. No political solutions are on the table.
There can be no peace unless the Thai military are withdrawn from the occupation of Patani, human rights abuses are put right and the local people of all ethnicities are allowed to freely discuss how to move forward to self-determination. Peace can only be achieved by all-inclusive political discussions led by civilians. This is not something that the military are prepared to contemplate. [See https://bit.ly/1QCoOWs ]
Meanwhile a new political party of Patani Muslims has been set up. The Prachachart Party is made up of established mainstream politicians from the area. Former policeman Tawee Sordsong, one of the founding members of this party, recent gave an interview where he stressed the need to accept multiculturalism in society, devolve political power to local communities and promote human rights. The party proposes reforming the police to ensure that it has a different structure from the military. Yet, the party does not advocate withdrawal of the military from the region or criticise the use of security laws or martial law. It merely wants troops confined to barracks and local civilians to have more say and increased political participation in security matters. Apart from advocating multicultural policies in the whole of Thailand, the party has little to say about other social and political issues such as the need for a welfare state, workers’ rights or the removal of the military from politics.
The Future Forward Party is committed to cutting down the influence of the military in politics and on the issue of Patani it proposes that the military should withdraw from the area and that the future of Patani be determined by civilians. [See also https://bit.ly/2tZG5JK ]
However, both the Future Forward Party and the Prachachart Party do not envisage the possibility of independence for Patani, if a majority of locals want this. They are not prepared to challenge the conservative nationalist view about Thailand as an “indivisible nation state”. However both parties have tentatively talked about some form of regional autonomy.
As for Pua Thai, the party is still stuck in the past with little to say about Patani.
Local mass social movements in Patani will have to mobilise to push for a more progressive political agenda for ending the war. To be successful they need to also concern themselves with issues other than Patani in order to build alliances with progressive groups outside the region.