IT IS indeed a place steeped in both beauty and bloodshed. Pattani’s spectacular landscape of verdant hills, swaying palms and beckoning beaches has also been the backdrop for its constant wars and revolts throughout the ages.
Wednesday’s carnage in which 113 people were killed is the latest in the cycle of violence that has gripped the province, the roots of which could be traced to Pattani’s glorious era when four colourful queens ruled the once-mighty Malay Muslim kingdom.
The proper understanding of its rich history could perhaps help find solutions to Thailand’s current troubles.
Hijau (Green), the first of the queens ascended the throne upon the death of her father, Sultan Mansur Shah in 1572. The kingdom of Pattani (which then included the present adjoining provinces of Yala and Narathiwat) was by then torn by a series of traumatic inter-family feuds involving her brothers and cousins.
Ironically, it was these tussles that resulted in her becoming the queen. All potential male heirs to the throne were either killed or ended up being too incapacitated to rule.
Hijau and her two other sisters, Biru (Blue) and Unggu (Violet) ruled in succession from 1584 to 1635, after which Unggu’s daughter, Kuning (Yellow) ascended the throne.
During the period, the queens forged alliances with the Pahang, Johor and Kedah Malay sultanates, mostly through marriages and either paid tribute in to the various rulers of Siam or resisted their attempts to invade.
Records show that Pattani was thriving thanks to trading with India China, Japan and European colonial powers.
Although the on-going strife in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat is now mostly attributed to “Islamic militants”, the source of the original mess could be traced to as early as 1909 with the signing of the second Anglo-Siamese Treaty or perhaps even to the first accord in 1826.
The Malays had no say in the agreement that effectively slashed the northern half of the peninsula into two parts, with Siam controlling Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Satun and the British controlling Kelantan and Terengganu.
The first Anglo-Siamese Treaty helped create a friendly buffer for the British against the widening French interests in the region.
Encouraged by the support their British allies, Siam formally annexed Pattani and the three other provinces in 1902. Soon after, Pattani’s palace was looted and its last ruler, Tengku Abdul Kadir Kamaruddin, was brought back to Bangkok in chains. Many of the prisoners of war ended up as slaves who were made to dig the city’s famous canals.
The kingdom’s proud symbol of power – a magnificent 6m-long cannon, Seri Nagara, was hauled back to Bangkok, where it still stands at the Ministry of Defence complex.
In spite of Thailand’s efforts to embrace Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat as part of the country, the relationship between the country’s mainstream Buddhist society and the Muslim Malays in the south has always been uneasy.
Several rebellions against Thai rule began in the 1940s, the biggest of which was the Dusun Nyior Revolt that took place between April 26 to 28 in 1948, in which 400 villagers and 30 policemen were killed.
After the failed uprising, several thousand Malays fled across the border to the then Malaya. During the same year, the rebels started a petition to the United Nations, demanding that the province come under the newly-created Federation of Malaya.
Thailand’s then military ruler, Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram, declared martial law in all the Muslim dominated provinces and moved three regiments to the south.
Some academics believe that the masterminds of Wednesday’s planned attacks and subsequent bloodshed purposely chose the date to revive the original struggle, noting that April 28 also marked the first anniversary of arms grabs and attacks on military outposts in Yala and Narathiwat.
The separatists formally waged a guerrilla war against the government in the early 1960s. They accused the government of trampling on their culture and religion, oppressing their pondok schools, neglecting them economically and posting brutal and corrupt officials to the region.
The fiercest of the groups was the Pattani United Liberation Organisation (Pulo), which carried out a series of bombings and shootings throughout the 1970s and the 1980s.
A lull was seen in 1991 after Bangkok granted an amnesty to Pulo members. The Thai government came out with an amnesty offer called Tai Rom Yen (Cool shade in the south).
Pulo’s powerful secretary-general Yusouf Longpi, aka Yusouf Pakistan (after where he once studied) were among those who gave up their guns to settle down to normal life. He is now a tailor in a small town in Narathiwat. Other leaders opted for exile in Europe.
The peace, however, did not last for long. Within five years, new groups had emerged to re-ignite the struggle, this time with religious teachers playing a key role in propagating the message and with links to terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
As these groups set up cells silently, the administration inadvertently helped to make them popular by treating the Southern provinces as dumping grounds for incompetent or corrupt civil and military officers.
Lack of understanding of the local people and their culture and religion resulted in further alienation of the Muslims.
To add to their woes, the levels of lawlessness had been rising in the region, so much so that the central government had been finding it tough to distinguish between common banditry and terrorist acts committed by separatists.
When the attacks on the army outposts took place last year, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra insisted that either “bandits” or gunrunners were responsible.
It was only after the latest spate of violence began on Jan 4 this year, when an armoury was raided, soldiers killed, more than 300 weapons carted off and schools torched simultaneously, that the government finally recognised the kind of fight it was facing.
Since then, scores of policemen and soldiers have been murdered, along with Buddhist monks, civil servants and even patrons of nightspots.
Wednesday’s bloodbath at the historic Krue Se mosque in Pattani showed that the Thai government is prepared to come down hard on those who resort to terrorism, even if those on the front line are teenagers brandishing only machetes.
But without having identified the real leaders of the insurgents and without having a definite long-term plan to deal with the eight million southern Malay Muslim population, it can only brace itself for possible future attacks.