Too many cooks spoiling the broth
Published on November 11, 2009 - If they have nothing constructive to offer on the country's problems, retired generals should stay retired
For a country with thousands of generals, why is it so hard to find a smart one, at least one that speaks sensibly on security-related issues? Of late, the public has been hearing some retired top brass trying to make sense of the mess in the country. And so they speak their minds while ignoring the age-old wisdom that says it's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.
Obviously, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and General Wattanachai Chaimuenwong have never read Mark Twain. Or maybe they have, but didn't understand.
The media and the public give these two and others the time of day because of the important positions they once held. Chavalit is a former prime minister and Wattanachai was chief security adviser to former interim prime minister Surayud Chulanont. Both men are trying to reinvent themselves politically, and so over recent weeks they have been working hard to capture public attention.
After visiting Cambodia, where he set off more sparks in the latest diplomatic storm between Thailand and Cambodia, Chavalit is now billing himself as the saviour of Thailand's restive South. He is suggesting that the Malay-speaking region be given some sort of autonomy so people there can elect their own governor and have more say in mapping their future. The idea sounds good in principle. But coming from a man who lacks credibility, the suggestion was immediately dismissed as another political ploy. If he was just a little more respectable and respected, perhaps his comments on the future of the deep South might get real attention.
Unlike Chavalit, Wattanachai is not tarnished by Thailand's gutter politics, probably because he has not been at the trough long enough. But he did make a fool of himself during his brief stint in the Surayud administration by bringing together a southern Muslim cleric and a Buddhist monk and forcing them to join hands. It was supposed to be an interfaith dialogue. His recent analysis of the strategy of the Malay Muslim militants is a bit confusing, however. He claims the insurgents want to catch the Thai security forces carrying out human rights abuses so they can then run to the United Nations or Muslim countries and snitch on the Thais. Wattanachai appeared to be suggesting the insurgents would use such abuses as justification to break away from Thailand. He must have forgotten about the Tak Bai massacre, the beating to death of Imam Yapa Kaseng, and the scores of reports of abductions and torture carried out by security officials. These incidents have caught everybody's attention and are stated in just about everybody's reports.
If the past five years are any indication, this shadowy network of militants doesn't seem to be waiting for anybody's order to carry out attacks. From their perspective, they have all the justification they need: Thailand's southernmost provinces are a Malay historical homeland, and the government forces are illegitimate occupiers.
Instead of giving weight to gibberish from washed-up generals, how about initiating a serious debate on the grievances the Malay Muslims have? And while we debate these sticky issues, we can start by putting an end to the culture of impunity. We can start by arresting the five gunmen behind the June 8 massacre at the Ai Bayae Mosque. The name of one of the gunmen has been made public. Strange how he is still evading arrest.