The bombings in Narathiwat and Yala in Southern Thailand, immediately after the Peace deal was signed, have raised a pertinent question on how successful the peace deal will be in its further negotiation. The historic peace deal was signed between the Thai government and Insurgent groups in order to facilitate further negotiations for building peace in the Patani region of Thailand. Immediately after the deal was signed, it faced criticism from many experts and stakeholders.
What are the grounds on the basis of which the peace deal has been criticised? Why does the peace deal seem to be a failure; is it because of the series of blasts or because of the culture of mistrust?
The avenues of criticism of the peace deal
A key criticism of central importance, which fuels the mistrust about the deal, relates to the acknowledged involvement of former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra. Still seen as the prime instigator of violence in the southern region, the connection between the Thai government’s representative, General Paradon Pattanathabutr, and Thaksin Shinawatra has aroused doubt regarding the deal’s motive. Not only has the role of Thaksin Shinawatra, but many political analysts questioned the real motive of the Thai government behind the deal. In fact, many in the Thai society have perceived this peace deal a frantic attempt on the part of Yingluck Shinawatra government to boost its public credibility as she is nearing re-election.
This criticism extends to the insurgent groups and the representatives involved which raises the question of reliability of talk involving these groups. The insurgents were represented by the two prominent groups Barisan Revolusi Nasional-Koordinasi (BRN-C) and Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), whose most of the members are either in exile or are based overseas. Moreover, BRN-C has also been involved in other unsuccessful peace talks initiated earlier. Additionally the involvement of Hasan Taib as the ‘leader’ of BRN-C has come under the lens of scrutiny. The relatively benign status of Hasan Taib has been demonstrated by his previous relationship with the government where his role has not been clearly defined and the outcomes have not been successful. Uncertainty over whether his role is pivotal with respect to his influence on the insurgent situation compounds mistrust over the parties negotiating. Moreover Taib Hasan does not have much to offer except for the promise that he will talk to the inner circle BRN-C and persuade them to join the talk.
The demands of the insurgents
The basic demands of the insurgents are portrayed as the ending of violence. But many sources claimed that there are various other claims on behalf of the different insurgent groups. The BRN-C leaders have put up certain sensitive issues as their demands. This includes the granting of diplomatic immunity to negotiators and also to the rest of the BRN- C political wings. They have also demanded acknowledgement on behalf of the government that the three southernmost regions of Thailand are the homeland for the Malay Muslims. This claim has been supported by another group as well. The BRN-Congress, a separate wing within the BRN circle, has agreed that the official acknowledgement is necessary for peace in the region. Representatives from PULO have been talking along the same line. But the key issue, demand for greater autonomy in the southern region, although hinted was not openly mention in their demands. The key issues can be bones of contention especially when it comes to the Thai army’s active involvement in the peace process. If greater autonomy includes territorial concession then it will face heavy resistance on behalf of the Army. In fact active Army involvement in the process has been criticised. As for many insurgent groups and locals of the southern province, greater autonomy includes withdrawal of the Army from that region. Thus, the Army’s involvement has added mistrust to the deal.
The factors that might lead to failure
Apart from the criticisms regarding the shadowy nature of the insurgent groups and their un-clear demands, there are many hurdles to the peace deal. The Thailand government has sought help from the Ulema Council, which is made up of traditionalist (Shafi’i Jurisdiction) Muslim Clerics in the three Southernmost Malay Muslim region to act as the arbitrators, but they have refused. Another group that could have played a pivotal role but have given cold shoulder is the student/ youth movement group called, Saudara. Malaysia’s involvement has taken the role of the ‘facilitator’ as opposed to the role of mediator, and has been regarded by many as a step taken for the political gains, especially for Prime Minister Najib Razak. With the upcoming elections in 2013, the peace deal has been viewed as a step to strengthen the vote bank of the Northern Malaysia, the immediate neighbour of the southern Thailand.
Initiatives have been pursued by other countries such as Europe, Indonesia, and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. In fact, Malaysia under the guidance of the former Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, held a dialogue to initiate the peace process. But, unfortunately, no result was drawn out of it. Although there are greater expectations pinned to this recent deal, the question that arises is: is this peace deal heading towards the same mistakes that resulted in the failure of the other deals?