Critical time for Thailand


By THANONG KHANTHONG

BANGKOK: We were shocked. We were angry. But we also felt sad. These lines sum up the reaction to the carnage on Wednesday when 108 Muslim militants were killed in Pattani, Yala and Songkhla by the authorities in the deadliest flare-up of violence in modern Thai history. And all this took place in a single day. 

People from all over the world have grown accustomed to thinking of Thailand as the Land of Smiles. They are familiar with Phuket, the Royal Palace, the Floating Market, Khao San Road, Pattaya and Chiang Mai. 

Now, as a result of the killings on Wednesday, they will begin to see Thailand as a land of religious and ideological conflict. Suddenly, Thailand is no longer smiling – she is crying instead. 

This perception will irreparably hurt the kingdom if we do not move fast enough in bringing the violence in the south to an end. 

It is still hard to imagine that the violence, revenge and killings previously confined to the Middle East, most recently in Iraq, which we see almost daily on TV, are now taking place within our own borders, in our own gentle and kind nation. 

The origins of the trouble in the south remain shrouded in mystery, though this most recent flare-up began on Jan 4. In the past, Thailand had prided itself on being a country that observes religious tolerance and racial harmony. But the tragedy on Wednesday has completely changed this characterisation, placing Thailand on dangerously muddy ground. 

A process of national reconciliation must begin in earnest as soon as possible. Such a process would require cooperation from Muslim leaders, both at the national and local level. 

The Muslim people know best how to take care of their business. Thailand’s authorities can’t solve the conflict in the south all by themselves. 

The Thaksin government would like to throw billions of baht at the south to improve economic conditions and to ease the resentment among Muslim-Thais. This quick-fix mentality will not solve the problem over the long term. Money only represents one aspect of the issues affecting the Muslim-dominated south. 

Strong military and police actions are not the answer to the problem. Strong actions only lead to stronger retaliation from local militants. People now fear that revenge will come soon, and that the price could be much higher both in terms of human lives and property. 

When it comes to security problems, the government must have patience. It should find the best way to solve the conflict. There is no place for complacency or quick-fix solutions. 

One of the origins of the problems in the south may be traced to the fact that the kingdom’s Muslim leaders have lost touch with the local people. This situation is a breeding ground for militancy. This phenomenon has occurred elsewhere in the Muslim world. 

The Thai authorities should work with Muslim leaders to decide how best to lay the groundwork for recognition, peaceful coexistence, and prosperity. The local people of the south should not be left out as the country moves forward. 

They should be promoted to local posts to look after their own people. 

We are entering a dangerous period of our history. Thailand may or may not re-emerge as a gentle and kind nation, depending on the policy decisions. 

If the hard-line policy continues, one can only expect to see more violence, pushing us further from our collective goals as a nation. - The Nation

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