On August 11-12, 2016, the series of bombing attacks took
place in 7 southern provinces (Trang, Krabi, Phang Nga, Phuket, Surat Thani, Nakhon
Srithammarat and Prachuap Khiri Khan), killed 4 civilians and wounded more than
30. The junta government quickly blamed political foes, who were upset over the
result of the national referendum, and dismissed the involvement of the Malay
Muslim insurgent (International
Crisis Group, 2016). Police
Chief Chakthip Chaijinda, on the other hand, said most of the suspects are
Muslims and some of them were further linked to previous attacks in the three
southern provinces (Hiebert & Nguyen, 2016). In total, the number of unrest
incidents has increased again, 807 incidents in total (DSID, 2016).
In April 2017, BRN publicly rejected the Junta government’s
peace process, insisting that any peace process must be conducted under
observation of the third parties from international community (Abuza, 2017).
The Junta government once again dismissed BRN’s demands, stating that peace
dialogues do not need any international observer and separation is impossible
as well (Abuza, 2017). Although MARA Patani still continues the peace dialogue
with the government, the dialogues seem to be meaningless since there is no
full cooperation of BRN, the main player in this southern border issue.
In the first six months of 2017, there were 351 unrest
incidents in total (DSID, 2017). According to Deep South incident Database
(DSID) (2017), over 60% of incidents in the first quarter have an unclear cause
(DSID, 2017). On the other hand, the main cause of incidents, taken place in
the second quarter of 2017, is found related to separatism (DSID, 2017).
: Causes of the insurgency in the South and the province of Satun
Since there are several causes of
the insurgency in the southern border provinces, the following categorized
causes including ethnic, cultures and religious cause, Political cause,
economic cause, military cause, education cause, and external cause shall be
4.1) Ethnic, cultures
and religious cause
policies, historically issued and implemented by Thai government in order to
integrate separate ethnic groups into single Thai community, have deeply
affected Muslims in the South. These
policies were seen as the government’s approach to put Malays into a “second
class citizen” category (Mahakanjana, 2006).
The policies included restriction on wearing Malay sarong, using Malay
language and even having Malay or Arabic names, for example. The government
further replaced Sharia law, the body of Islam law, with Thai law (Forbes, 1989). Sharia law is believed to be God’s law covering not only
religious context but also a variety of topics, such as crime, politics, and
economic, besides it also regulate individual behaviors in terms of sexuality,
diet and so on (World
Heritage Encyclopedia, n.d).
Since the policies and programs aimed to promote Thai as national language and
Buddhism as state religion, Islamic customs, language as well as social
standard were thus gradually eliminated. Because culture is a key element of
individual’s identity, the Muslims hence struggle to protect their own cultures
including language as well as custom against outsider threats (Engvall & Andersson, 2014). As a result, it has
generated strong resentment among Muslims in Thailand that led to the spread of Muslim separatist groups
later on (Maisonti, 2004).
4.2) Political cause
though central administrative system that was formed and developed since 1892,
has been seen as applied to every provinces in Thailand, least or more, disparity
was showed since then. According to Thomas Parks (2009), the central government
allowed Satun to maintain its political autonomy in a higher level comparing to
what it allowed in Patani region, which collectively referred to Pattani, Yala,
Narathiwat and Songkhla (Parks, 2009). Satun is a province of Thailand that was mentioned in some
journals that it was once a part of the Malay kingdom of Patani.
highly centralized government resulted in the decline of the authority of
traditional state institution. Civil servants, who have been appointed from the
center – Bangkok – are rotated around the three southern provinces regarding
the purpose of Thai government to maintain central control (Burke et al., 2013). However, according to Kevin T. Conlon (2012), these
government’s officials were indeed incompetent and often seen as corruptors (Conlon, 2012).
Although the 1997 and 2007
Constitutions that aim to promote people’s participation in the administration,
transferred some responsibilities from the central to local government and
encouraged more local participation, these reforms could hardly be seen on
ground (Burke et al., 2013). The strong power of central
government continually remains, for instance, elected local representatives
from the southern border provinces are considered to be less credible hence are
not able to intensely influence policies for the area (McCargo, 2008).
lack of political participation among the Muslims in the southern border
provinces has been found linked to a lack of education at the first place (Burke et al., 2013). Even though the government tried to increase Muslim
politician or staff in the bureaucracy, the Muslims still face obstacles in
recruitment process because of their education levels (McCargo, 2004). The elected Muslim politicians are
also found taking only a small position in decision-making process and have not
been able to notably influence government policies (Timberman, 2013). Moreover,
the Muslim’s interaction with the state is very limited since only Thai
language is accepted in official communication according to Conservative Thai
language policy (Smalley, 1994). It hence shows a failure of Thai government in
response to the need of the Muslims living in southern border provinces,
especially those who are Malay-speaker.
On the other hand, the elected Malay Muslim politicians
are seen to be absorbed into mainstream Thai society therefore they have
forgotten their origin, consequently the Malay Muslim community rarely have
representatives in political and socioeconomic process (Abdullah, 2008).
4.3) Economic cause
to Office of the National Economic and Social
Development Board (2013), the Gross provincial product (GPP) of these three southern
provinces has been indeed increased and is now higher than it was in the past. Although the economic condition
of the South has improved, least or more, over the past decade, still the
region has been experiencing slow economic development. Comparing to Bangkok, the GPP rate of these three
southern provinces has grown only a small percentage from 1995 to 2013 (Figure
Figure 4 Gross Provincial Product (GPP) of Pattani, Yala,
Narathiwat, and Bangkok in 1995 to 2013
of the National Economic and Social Development Board Website
terms of natural resources, the southern border provinces have abundant natural
resources, which notably contribute to the national economic growth, for
example, rubber. The rubber plantations in the South are more than half found
in the three southern provinces and Songkla (Nurakkate,
if Thai government were to lose their control on these areas, the national
economy tends to be severely impacted. This consequently raises a question
among the Muslim community whether the natural resources of the South are being
exploiting by the central government as well as the Buddhists or not (Melvin, 2007).
Moreover, the difference of
incomes between Malays and Thais as well as other ethic minorities, such as
Chineses, was striking in the region (Mahakanjana, 2006). This income difference thus induced the Malays
to perceive that Thais and Chineses were exploiting their natural
resources (Mahakanjana, 2006). The majority of Malays owns small businesses, are
engaged with rubber cultivation plus small-scale fishing, whereas middle and
large-scale businesses are left in hands of Thais and Chinese minorities (Thomas, 1975).
Suwanro, and Choonpradub (2009) link education and unemployment rate of Pattani
province, where approximately 80% of population are Muslims, in their paper.
Although occupational structures are varied in each province, unexpectedly the
finding reveals that in Pattani populations, who had completed secondary
education, have a higher rate of unemployment than those who only had completed
elementary education and even those who have no education completed
(Thongchumnum et al, 2009).
economic underdevelopment – including unemployment and poverty – is identified
in many journals, yet is not considered as a major cause of the insurgency in
the three southern provinces. Instead, the poor economy of these provinces,
comparing to other regions in Thailand, reveals inequalities that then creates
a sense of exclusion as well as economic grievances among the Muslims.
Yet, there is an argument that the
core grievance of the insurgent is mainly contributed by not socio-economic or
religious, but rather political disparities
(Jitpiromsri & McCargo, 2010). This argument could be explained by a set of
demands, which is issued in 1947 by Haji Sulong, the chairman of the Pattani Provincial Islamic
Council. His demands focused more on political participation rather than
economic matters. Haemindra (1976) mentioned that the set of demands, known as
seven-point petition, and that were summited to Thai government, call for:
The appointment of a single individual with full
powers to govern the four provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Setul
Satun and in particular having authority to dismiss, suspend, or replace all
government servants, this individual to be local-born in one of the four
provinces and to be elected by the people;
2. Eighty percent of government servants in the four
provinces to be Muslims; ?
3. Malay and Siamese to be official languages; ?
4. Malay to be the medium of instruction in the primary
5. Muslim law to be recognized and enforced in a separate
Muslim Court other than the civil court where the one time kathi sat as an assessor;
6. All revenue and income derived from the four provinces
to be utilized within them; ?
7. The formation of a Muslim Board having full powers to
direct all Muslim affairs under the supreme authority of the head of state
mentioned in (1.)
4.4) Military cause
the case of key event of 2004, one relative factor though not a root, contributed
to the insurgency is being discussed – Military response. Military intervention
from Thai government seems to be a significant solution toward the political
cause of the insurgency. However, at the same time, it is somehow seen as a
factor of the insurgency itself. According to Moss (2009), military policies
issued by the government have shown some relation with a rise in violence.
Implementing softer approaches is prone to be able to lesson such violence
(Moss, 2009). The failed military policies announced by the ex-prime minister,
Thaksin Shinawatra, can be a good example.
recognized the insurgent activities – shooting, bombings, and so on – are caused
by criminals with their purposes to create instability and discredit his government.
He hence dissolved the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC),
who works ‘to monitor the work of civilian government agencies and to coordinate
with security forces in Thailand’s troubled Malay Muslim majority provinces in
the south’ in 2002 (Wheeler, 2010, p. 208). The SBPAC was realized as a crucial
element in a successful counter-insurgency campaign led by the government (Storey, 2007). The authority to control and manage the
southern provinces that used to be under the army was transferred to the police
under the authority of Thaksin (Storey, 2007). The police, however, were blamed
for committing human rights abuses because of their cruel actions on dealing
with the drug trafficker. Under the ‘War of drugs’ campaign issued by Thaksin,
a number of Muslim leaders of separatist groups were accused as drug
traffickers so they were killed brutally.
violence hence reemerged in 2004 when more than 50-armed men launched a big
attack on an army camp in Narathiwat province, killed four Thai Buddhist
soldiers, and stole a large cache of weapons. In a response to this attack, Thaksin
government immediately adopted a hardline military policy that included declaration
of martial law in the southern provinces (Storey, 2007). Since the situation
has not yet improved, the government then adopted other responses in the
following years. For example, dividing the south into red, yellow, and green
zones; villages where the rate of violence remains high will be identified as
‘red zone’. The so-called ‘red zone’ villages will be cut out from government
funding for provincial development (Gunaratna & Acharya 2012).
hardline policies not only intensified separatist sentiment of the Muslims in
the South, but also strained relations with Thailand’s Muslim-majority
neighboring countries, particularly Malaysia (Storey, 2007). The two bloodshed
events, which resulted from his hardline policies, are powerful tools that incite
the Muslims to fight against Thai Buddhist state (ICG, 2009). Anger of these two
events moreover became a main reason of many members to join the insurgent
group (ICG, 2009). Since then, violence has continued to rise and a number of people
have been killed on a nearly daily
basis. The non-stop violence thus has been marked as one of Southeast
Asia’s bloodiest unresolved conflicts (Burke et al., 2013).
hardline policies and the use of excessive force need to be very carefully
applied; otherwise it probably results in an increasing of violence in
particular periods. This can be explained more in paradoxes of counterinsurgency written by Cohen and many of
‘The more force you use, the less
effective you are. Any use of force
produces many effects, not all of which can be foreseen. The more force
applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Enemy
propaganda will portray kinetic military activities as brutal. Restrained force
also strengthens the rule of law the counterinsurgent is trying to establish.
4.5) Education cause
There is an argument that
Thai government’s education policy has somewhat played a role in the insurgency
in the three southern provinces through efforts to implement the national
curriculum including national language, narrative histories, and especially
education reform (Smith, 2014).
Historically, the Muslim communities
had their own informal education system in which Malay was regularly used in
instruction and the content was Islam (Aphornsuvan,
2003). However, because education was perceived as a
necessary mean to achieve modernization, the very beginning education reform
was held in the region of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) (Aphornsuvan, 2003). Since then, Muslim children were required to study
in Thai and the content was changed to Buddhism (Aphornsuvan,
government tried to bring the Pondoks, the central transmission of Malay Muslim
cultural and identity (Narongraksakhet, 2006), under its control in order to
encourage the assimilation process through requirement of registration under
the Ministry of Education, for example (Smith, 2014). The resentment has thus
been raised among the Muslim community, who considered these government approaches
as disregard of Muslim local history, language, and religion, so a ‘weapon of
mass assimilation’ (Von Feigenblatt et al.,
2010). Public education was further seen as what made it difficult to pass on
the collective memory of a unique past to new generations of Malay Muslims (Feigenblatt, 2010)
Since the government-led education
system was considered as a symbol of Thai Buddhist state oppression, Buddhist teachers
were hence being targeted and killed, furthermore government schools have been
burned or bombs frequently.