Off-the-wall comments, suggestions have not helped
Published on Mar 29, 2007
- Thailand's senior security chiefs could learn a great deal from the famous American writer, Mark Twain, who once said: "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."
Indeed, the quote sums up nicely the opinion of many people about some of the country's policy makers, a number of whom have been making off-the-wall comments about the deep South, where more than 2,000 people have been killed since January 2004.
Few seem to care that their comments have grave consequences. Sadly, this has long been the nature of Thai generals.
First, there was Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas, who flip-flopped this way and that after the New Year's Eve bombs, which left three dead and about 40 injured. At first he suggested it was the work of southern militants and warned that some of them had enrolled in universities in Bangkok, using student activities as a cover while planning future bombings in the capital. But days later, Boonrawd changed his statement, saying it was the result of a power struggle in the aftermath of the September 19 coup.
But when the dust settled on this case, which has yet to be concluded, the newly appointed police chief Gen Seripisut Temiyavej, known for rattling colleagues' cages throughout his career, told reporters that Muslim insurgents from the deep South may have been responsible. Up until Seripisut's statement, Thai officials, particularly Council of National Security chief, General Sonthi Boonyarat-glin, had all but ruled out southern militants being behind the Bangkok blasts.
Seripisut didn't say much about the two young men who have been trying desperately to clear their names after police released photos of them to the public. Embarrassment is inevitable, as it becomes clear the two were innocent of the alleged crime. It is said that the police are now praying the real bombers look like the two they issued warrants for.
The most farfetched comment and initiative came from retired General Watanachai Chaimuanwong, chief adviser to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont. He said the current level of brutality in the South showed a growing Islamic influence on the separatists, and that the militants had adopted al-Qaeda's tactics.
In a recent interview with Agence-France Presse (AFP), Watanachai referred to the new generation of separatists as "young turk militants who want to challenge the old groups. Their operations are more gruesome and more violent because they have imported those techniques from al-Qaeda and the Taleban, with the goal of creating a pure Islamic state.
"They want to create a state called Pattani Darussalam" which would include Thailand's Muslim-majority south and two northern states in Malaysia."
He said the militants were unable to stage attacks outside of the Malay-speaking region because they had failed to recruit new members from outside of the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala.
Oh, and if the public is not confused enough, the New Year's Eve bombs were, he said, made and carried out by militants from the South - but the real culprits were people who lost political power in after the coup. They had hired the militants to advance their own political interests.
To ensure that militants in the South don't fully embrace the global jihadist mindset of the al-Qaeda group, Watanachai suggested that a Shura Council be created to prevent the militants from embracing the "wrong path".
Considering the fact that insurgents have also targeted fellow Muslims, perhaps Islam - whatever version one embraces - is not the problem. Perhaps the problem has more to do with the historical mistrust and animosity between the Thai state and Malay-speaking region still struggling to come to terms with Bangkok's notion of a nation-state.
The shallowness and "Bangkok-knows-best" attitude was evident in the photo showing Watanachai standing between a senior monk and an Islamic leader. He got the pair to shake hands, as if they were representatives of warring Karen factions trying to make peace.
The man was good at keeping Burmese insurgents at bay, but brokering an interfaith dialogue is surely out of his league.