Thailand: A Peace Deal with Insurgents

16 Mar, 2013    ·   3844

Aparupa Bhattacharjee examines the ramifications and possible fallout of the recently signed peace deal

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer

A historic peace deal was recently signed between the Thailand government and Thai insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) in Kuala Lampur. The deal was signed in Malaysia, a country which also played the role of mediator in the forthcoming talks between the Thai government and BRN. After nine years of insurgency, this is the first ever peace deal signed between Thai officials and the representatives of the rebel group. The deal consists of a consensus document in order to begin a dialogue for peace. This is a big step taken on behalf of the Thai government and the insurgent group. Why is Malaysia playing a key role in the peace deal? Will this peace deal be a success?

Kuala Lumpur: The Mediator 
The BRN is a terrorist organization based in Northern Malaysia and operating in Southern Thailand. As an organisation, BRN fights to attain a pan-Malay independent Republic of Pattani, composed of three southern most Muslim provinces of Thailand. The Thai nationals of this region have ethnic, cultural and religious ties to Malaysia. Thus, they are often accused of being supporters of such activities. In fact, according to some Thai officials, many Malaysians are liable in the financing of the insurgency movements. So, acting as a mediator for the peace talks can be seen as a step on behalf of the Malaysian government, to clean up the reputation of its citizens. Malaysia also bears the brunt of being the immediate southernmost neighbour of Thailand. Terrorist activities from this region often percolate into northern Malaysia, which disrupts the life of the civilians there. Naturally, such disruptions act as a pressure on the Malaysian government, making its role in the peace deal even more necessary. In recent years, particularly, Malaysia has sought to project itself as regional peacemaker. It has helped to build separate peace deals between rebel groups and the Philippine and Indonesian governments. Moreover, as many of these southern insurgent groups have their base in Malaysia, their role as a mediator is quite acceptable. There is a lot of hope pinned to this peace deal because many eminent figures from the rebel group are prepared to talk to the government for the first time.

Thailand: Steps Toward Peace? 
According to many experts inside and outside Thailand, the deal came up at the right time as southern Thailand appeared to be more prepared for de-escalation. The insurgency activities that escalated in 2004, were blamed on the blunders made by the government under former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, like the army crackdown at Krue Ze Mosque in Pattani Province and in TakBai in Narathiwat. Although further such gaffes were not repeated by the State, but it is seen as the prime instigator of the persisting violence. Several changes in the form of social and developmental programs were introduced by the post 2006 coup administration of Surayudh Chulanont. Since then many official development initiatives and people-centred operations, such as vocational and training programs have been carried out to win the goodwill and trust of the masses in southern region.  Several laws have also been legislated to make southern people more integrated into the mainstream. But the fact that terrorist activities still continue, despite all these efforts, has proved the failure of government measures. Although the Thai government remains optimistic regarding this deal, many question the future success of the peace talks, with one major hindrance being the question of whom to negotiate with.

Hurdles in the Peace Talks
The core problem in this issue is that there are numerous insurgent groups in this region which are further divided into several factions. Most of them are very secretive, their locations are guarded, and members of such groups are not known. Another predicament lies in the fact that the goals and objectives of many of these organisations are blurred. Many current groups have not revealed the top leadership cadre nor have they publicly proclaimed a clear set of their demands. To negotiate for peace, the demands of the organisations have to be clear. Such non-ideological violence has often been downplayed by State officials as a political act, rather than insurgency violence. The local political parties’ support for such organisations makes the situation worse. Moreover, in many terrorist incidents, personal gains are covertly involved. Some insurgency groups are driven by vested interests, under the cover of ethno-religious claims. The involvement of such organisations in drug transactions and other criminal activities makes it more difficult to identify them and differentiate them from hardcore drug mafias. All these obstacles make it very difficult for the government to reach out to these groups, which is essential to end hostility in the region.

The bombing in Narathiwat immediately after the peace deal makes it evident that the deal has not been taken very optimistically by other insurgent groups. This also shatters the expectations of Thai officials that other insurgent groups might fall into line, post the peace deal. There is no doubt that such a peace deal is indeed a big accomplishment for both the Thai and Malaysian governments but the question of how far the peace talks will actually be successful can only be answered by time.