The government started off on the right footing with the announcement of a new agency to oversee the violence-plagued, Malay-speaking southernmost provinces, where more than 3,400 people have been killed since January 2004.
Past governments' approaches to the South have been too security-oriented while ignoring other dimensions such as culture, history and identity.
It is hoped that this new agency - the latest in the long line of agencies to be set up in the Muslim-majority South - will succeed where others have failed in ending the violence and reconciling the historical mistrust between the Thai state and the Malay-speaking region. Moreover, the fact that the issue was brought up in the first Cabinet meeting shows that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is serious about addressing this century-old problem.
The new agency will bring back the supremacy of civilians in this heavily militarised region where nervous young soldiers and poorly trained paramilitary and village defence volunteers form the backbone of a half-baked security grid that often serves as a sitting duck for insurgents.
When troops do go on the offensive, it's usually in the form of a blind sweep backed by poor intelligence and without the support of local villagers, the vast majority of whom are Malay Muslims who don't trust the state in the first place.
Hit-and-run shootings and roadside bombings followed by gunfights have been more or less daily occurrences for the past five years. And while the violence has been confined to the Malay-speaking region, this should not be qualified as a success, much less victory, for the Thai security apparatus.
Analysts, academics and policy planners have studied the insurgency and this generation of insurgents who, unlike those before them, refuse to surface. And yet, we are nowhere near possessing an adequate understanding of the insurgents' organisational structure, operations or recruitment. What we do know is that the state is fighting a network of angry young men drawn into rebellion by social networks under the banner of Patani Malay nationalism. We take down one generation of armed separatists and, in a few years time, a new generation rises to take up the cause.
Because we have bogged ourselves down with "fighting insurgents" we forget about the root cause, the spirit and sentiment that differentiates the Patani Malays from the rest of the country. This is a tough pill for many Thais to swallow, since so many of us hold the national borders dearly to our hearts while conveniently overlooking the fact that the current border delineation that defines Thailand's nation-state integrity was man-made. For many, it's unthinkable that a group of people living inside this territory we call Thailand is challenging the legitimacy of the Thai state.
By putting the deep South as a top priority, is Abhisit ready to set the record straight, knowing that this will be costly in political terms? Or is he hoping that this new civilian-led agency will be enough to buy him time and breathing space?
It has been more than a century since the Patani region came under the direct rule of the Siamese-Thai nation. Generations of separatist movements have come and gone. While their military strength may be no match for the Thai armed forces, they have nevertheless shown that they can inflict tremendous damage.
The notion of a war against misguided separatists led the Thai government to focus overwhelmingly on military responses. Perhaps we need to negotiate with the Malays and work out in real terms their place in Thai society, the same way whites and blacks have done in America. It wasn't that long ago that those two peoples were not permitted to sit at the same tables, drink from the same public fountains, or use the same bathrooms.
They were able to close that chapter and move on because they were able to come to terms with their past and acknowledge each other for who they are. We in Thailand are too afraid to leave the comfort zone and see the problem in the deep South for what it really is.