Latest wave of insurgent attacks shows the government remains out of touch with sentiment in the violence-plagued region
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced on Wednesday this week that the government will come up with a more polished, fine-tuned policy for the deep South, but defended the current strategy as being sound. Like his security chiefs and defence planners, Abhisit must have been dumbstruck by the Tuesday morning blitz in Yala, where insurgents torched four warehouses, a car showroom and a hotel front, causing hundreds of millions of baht in damage.
In spite of the high security in the area, militants were able to enter the heart of the city and retreat quickly before the security units could respond. The city came to a standstill amid a growing fear that more violence was to come.
This was not the first time that Yala - a city that was recognised by Unesco as a "city of peace" a decade ago - has come under attack. Similar incidents took place in February 2007 when a rubber warehouse was torched, sending dark smoke over neighbouring Songkhla province. The attack followed a series of coordinated assaults that killed eight people and wounded nearly 70 in a 24-hour period.
In July 2005, separatists on motorcycles set off a series of bombs and hurled Molotov cocktails, hitting a newly opened cinema complex, a karaoke bar, shops and a warehouse. Spikes scattered on the roads by the fleeing insurgents slowed down the security forces in hot pursuit.
The insurgents later set off powerful explosives that brought down pylons outside an electricity substation in the early evening, crippling most of the telephone system and leaving the city in darkness throughout the night.
As a result of the attacks, the then government of Thaksin Shinawatra pushed through a controversial emergency decree that still applies today.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Abhisit did not spell out in detail what the new and improved policy would look like. While the prime minister could be buying time by being ambiguous, the Army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, on the other hand, displayed an appalling attitude towards the issue. He described the blitz on Yala as a "normal occurrence".
Sadly, the daily violence in the deep South has become normal for the country's Army chief. Perhaps he was lost for words. But surely he could have come up with a better response, something more encouraging, perhaps. The people want nothing more from the military than to be able to look up to it and see the institution as a source of comfort.
But if we are to believe that the ongoing violence is becoming acceptable and tolerable for our policy makers, perhaps Thailand is worse off than we thought.
Downplaying incidents for breathing space is nothing new in Thai politics. Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra used to refer to the insurgents as "sparrow bandits" - armed men working for criminal elements looking to create disturbances for financial gain.
But following the January 4, 2004 raid on an Army battalion in Narathiwat, Thaksin and Thailand could no longer deny the political underpinning of the attack. The then government was forced to acknowledge the presence of a new generation of militant separatists bent on carving out a separate homeland for the Malays in Thailand's southernmost provinces.
Even then, the Thai security apparatus was unable to take the insurgents seriously for fear that it would unnecessarily give the separatist movement too much political capital. And so these angry young men, brutal as they may be, are dismissed as having been misled by people who taught them a "distorted history" and a "wrong version" of Islam.
Thai governments and security planners - especially in the Army, National Security Council, National Intelligence Agency - and others, have to go beyond worrying about superficial and shallow thoughts, about how bad we are going to look in the eyes of the world, and deal with the problem head-on.
The security forces and their chiefs need to acknowledge that the Patani Malays, namely the insurgents, question the legitimacy of the Thai State and that they have been raised under a different narrative, with their own heroes, heroines and myth.
Unless the Thai government has the gumption to acknowledge these realities, problems in the Malay-speaking South will never be solved.