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Adam John

Working Paper

The Root Cause and Aggravating Factors behind the Violence in Patani

Adam John
adam.dr.john@hotmail.com

Abstract
Southeast Asias most violent conflict over the last decade shows no signs of abating despite a
huge military presence and billions of dollars spent on containing the violence. While the
literature focussing on this conflict zone in Thailand has debated over what the true reasons
behind the violence are, it fails to make a distinction between factors which aggravate the
violence and the root cause of the conflict. The paper argues that the Thai governments refusal
to officially recognise the Patani Malay identity of the majority of the population in the unstable
region is the root cause behind the conflict. In addition, the governments policy of militarising
civilians and public spaces, a poorly orchestrated counter-insurgency due to national political
rivalries, and military-led development projects which do not address the economic
marginalisation felt by the Malay community in Patani aggravate the situation and only fuel the
violence. The paper therefore concludes that addressing the root cause is necessary to resolving
the conflict but a revision of the governments policies which exacerbate the situation is also
needed if there is to be any prospect of sustained peace in Patani.
Key Words: Patani, Thailand, insurgency, violence, conflict

Adam John

Working Paper

Introduction
It probably would not come as a surprise to many that Thailand is one of Asias top tourist
destinations. Perhaps what many people would be more surprised at is that Thailand has one of
the highest rates of terrorism in the world. The two statements do not sit so comfortably together.
What one may find even more shocking is that the majority of these violent attacks are
happening in a region home to less than five per cent of Thailands entire population, and that
this region is only just over 200 miles away from Thailands tourist hotspot, Phuket and 100
miles away from Malaysias Langkawi Island. Despite this being one of Asias most intensive
conflicts over the last decade, it receives very little attention from the international arena. The
conflict, however, receives a lot of attention from the Thai government, with tens of thousands of
security forces stationed in the conflict region and billions of dollars spent on attempts to contain
the violence. However, despite this, bombings and other violent attacks show no signs of abating.
The paper is specifically interested in understanding the reasons behind the violence
through analysing the stock of literature which has focused on this conflict zone over the last
decade. While there seems to be substantial debate over what is driving the violence in these
southern border provinces of Thailand, the paper stresses the importance of distinguishing
between aggravating factors, which exacerbate the violence, and the root cause of the conflict.
The article argues that the governments determination to erase the identity of the local
inhabitants of this region and assimilate these people into the nationalist model of the Thai
citizen is responsible for the root cause behind the conflict, and that while there are other
significant destabilising factors driving the violence, which are mainly a direct result of
government policy in the region, the root cause has to be addressed by the state if a peaceful
resolution is to be found.
The paper looks at the development of the states attitude to the region over the last
hundred years as well as the governments reaction to the recent surge of violence over the last
decade in order to support the papers arguments. However, it is important to begin with
discussing the severity of the violence as well as how one addresses this conflict region,
therefore a justification for why the paper refers to the region as Patani and not southern
Thailand is now discussed.

Referring to the Region as Patani


Most studies refer to the three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat as southern Thailand or
the Deep South and so when discussing the violence which has grabbed the newspaper headlines
since 2004 it has been labelled as the South Thailand insurgency or the Deep South conflict.
There have been a few studies which have referred to the region as Patani (the Malay spelling
with onet instead of the Thai spelling Pattani). This paper follows the latter studies not with
the aim of giving an impression of bias against the Thai government but in order to provide more
accuracy to the region in question.
In agreement with Barters (2011) line of thought, southern Thailand suggests the
southern region of Thailand up until the Kra Isthmus which consists of 14 of the 76 provinces of
Thailand. The region in question only consists of three of those 14 provinces and 4 districts of a
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fourth province, namely Songkla. Barter (2011) also argues that the Deep South is inaccurate
since this suggests that all of the southernmost provinces of Thailand bordering Malaysia are
involved in the conflict which is untrue. The region makes up the former Malay Kingdom of
Patani which was conquered by Thailand (then Siam) in 1786 and formerly annexed into the
Kingdom in 1909 under the Anglo-Siamese treaty (Forbes, 1982). The paper sticks to the
spelling of Patani with onet so as not to confuse the region with the province of Pattani.
Jitpiromsri, and Panyasak (2006) reported that the population of the three provinces was
just over 1.8 million and that 78 per cent were Muslim and 22 per cent Buddhist. Most studies
separate these two groups as Thai-Muslims and Thai-Buddhists when referring to the conflict.
However, the danger with these distinctions is that it suggests the conflict is primarily religious
when the conflict is in fact restricted to the Patani region and not to other regions of Thailand
where the local population is also predominantly Muslim (Barter, 2011). This paper therefore
distinguishes between the two groups of inhabitants of Patani by referring to them to the ethnic
group they identify with, namely Malays and Thais.

Violence in Patani
To put the intensity of the conflict in recent years into some kind of perspective, one of the
worlds top counter-insurgency experts, David Kilcullen, described the insurgency in Patani as
second only to those in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005-2007 (Zawacki, 2012). Even now, the
only country in the world with more IED (improvised explosive device) attacks is Afghanistan
and between the recent phase of violence in 2004 up until January 2012 there were on average
nearly 4 violent incidents everyday (Zawacki, 2012). According to the Global Terrorism Index,
Thailand has suffered from the most terrorism in all Southeast Asia in the last decade and is
ranked 8th in the world (Global Terrorism Index Report, 2012)1.
The intense violence in Patani can be described as an insurgency between local groups
from the Malay population and Thailands security forces. As in most war zones, civilians are
caught up in the violence. Amnesty International has stated that acts of violence committed in
Patani against civilians constitute war crimes (Zawacki, 2012). Abuza (2011) argues that while
attacks were more indiscriminate before they are now more often considered to be retaliatory
attacks.
Fear is widespread throughout Patani with the number of registered firearms increasing
by 10 per cent every year since 2004 (Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri, 2011). Generally speaking, for
Thais the fear of attack comes from Malay insurgents whereas for Malays the source of threat
comes from the Thai security forces and especially from the different paramilitary forces (Sarosi
and Sombatpoonsiri, 2011). Many local citizens have reacted to the threat of violence by fleeing
the area, with an estimated 200,000 people moving out of Patani to neighbouring Hat Yai, the
capital of Songkla, alone (Boonchote, 2011). Zawacki (2012) quoted a local source as claiming
that by 2007 15 per cent of the Thai population in Patani had left the region. While it is difficult
to verify these numbers what is certain is that the conflict is having a dramatic effect on the
demographics of the region.

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Armed conflict and social unrest has been a common occurrence in Patani since Thailand
annexed the region. In fact in 1901, Patanis resistance towards Bangkok, who was imposing its
centralised power across the Kingdom, was joined by minorities in the north and northeastern
regions which were under the control of Siam (Aphornsuvan, 2007). There were numerous
rebellions in Patani for the first half of the 20th century including very violent ones in 19222 and
another in 19483 which saw clashes between Malay villagers and Thai security forces and
resulted in many deaths (Che Man, 1990).
The first insurgency group, the Barison National Pembebasan Patani (BNPP), was
formed in 1959 which then saw the beginning of the period of regular clashes between insurgent
groups and Thai security forces throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Croissant, 2007). These violent
confrontations peaked in the mid-1970s and then began to drop by the mid-1980s (Zawacki,
2012). The late 1980s and 1990s was seen as a relatively peaceful period. However, from 2001,
the amount of violent attacks intensified with almost 80 per cent of the attacks between 1993 and
2004 occurring from 2001 onwards (Croissant, 2007). Even though violent conflict was not new
to Patani, 2004 marked the beginning of an unprecedented amount of violence in the region.

The Development of the Thai States Attitude towards Patani


To understand the tensions between Patani and the Thai state it is necessary to go back to the
reign of King Chulalongkorn during the late 19th century. During this time, Siams existence was
being threatened by the world powers, Great Britain and France. Prior to that period, Siams
tributary states, like Patani, had enjoyed substantial autonomy where the different ethnic groups
including the Patani Malays were left to govern themselves. Aphornsuvan (2007) argues that
pressure from the Western powers to take over Siams tributary states forced Siam to integrate
Patani as well as all of the other autonomous regions into the centralised authority of Bangkok.
Whereas before, these regions were recognised by their ethnic names they were now
simply seen as south, north and northeast Siam. Likewise, the ethnic groups which were before
recognised as Malays, Lao, Cambodian, etc were now seen as Thais by the state so as to put a
halt to the Western powers ambitions of colonising the region. This saw the beginning of the
states efforts to assimilate all ethnic groups within the Kingdom to become Thai, including the
Patani Malays.
The Patani Malay elites reacted strongly to their loss of autonomy and requested help
from Great Britain, and for it to annex Patani as part of British Malaya (Dorairojoo, 2004). These
steps actually had the opposite desired effect as Britain informed Siam of Patanis plans and
demanded that Siam exert greater authority over Patani. Great Britain was concerned that Patani
may contact other rival colonial powers for help which would threaten British interests in the
region.
Religion and language were important parts of the assimilation process. King
Chulalongkorn began by replacing Islamic law with Thai law except in cases related to family
matters and inheritance (Jones, 2007). The Primary School Act in 1921 stipulated that all Malay
children attend Thai primary schools where the medium of instruction would be Thai as opposed
to Jawi (the Patani Malay language). These actions were followed by rebellion as they were seen
as a blatant attack on the Patani Malays cultural and ethnic identity. In an attempt to reduce the
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resistance towards the assimilation process in Patani, King Vajiravudh eased the restrictions on
practicing Islam in the predominantly Buddhist state as the King was concerned that Britain, who
occupied the southern Malay peninsula, may intervene in Patani due to the social instability
(Jones, 2007).
The end of the Siamese absolute monarchy and rise of Thai nationalism with the creation
of the land of the Thais saw the assimilation process towards the Malays intensify to new
heights. The same year of the revolution saw the Malay administration in Patani villages
replaced with Thai administrators (Che Man, 1990). Under Prime Minister Phibun Songkrams
tenure, the concept of Thai-ness was pushed to evolve around symbols of Buddhism and the
monarchy (Haemindra, 1976). However, to overcome the fact that the Malay identity was so
strong in Patani, the military junta invented the idea of Thai-Islam whereby Patani Malays would
be seen as Thai-Muslims or simply Thais.
By introducing the creation of Thai-Islam into Thai nationalism, while the state was
allowing religious tolerance to exist it was confirming that there could be no other difference
between Thai citizens (Aphornsuvan, 2003). Porath (2010) describes these new laws as the
beginning of ethnocide which affected all ethnic minorities in Thailand. For the Malays it meant
they had to give up the traditional Muslim dress and stop speaking the Malay language in public.
While Islam was now officially tolerated, religious repression continued. Although many of
Phibuns draconian laws were repealed after his fall from office his policies left a lasting
impression on what constituted the Thai nation (Porath, 2010).
Resistance maintained and by continuing to argue for autonomy throughout the 1940s,
the Patani leaders led by Hajji Sulong were seen as challenging the governments vision of a
homogenous Thai state (Porath, 2010). The government was concerned that by giving
concessions to Patani, all ethnic groups in Thailand would demand autonomy (Jones, 2007).
Matters intensified when Malay leaders drew international attention to the political instability in
Patani by requesting for the United Nations to intervene. Thai authorities responded by declaring
a state of emergency and sent military forces to Patani in the guise of combating communism
(Jones, 2007).
The 1960s saw a new turn in the governments efforts to assimilate Patani. Instead of
simply forcing the Malays to become Thai, the government would physically change the
demographics of Patani by encouraging and financially supporting Thai citizens from other
regions of the country to settle in Patani (Aphornsuvan, 2007). This policy was done under the
Self help Resettlement Programme (nikom sang kong eng in Thai) with the aim of helping
landless Thais and was not restricted to Patani.
Suhrke (1977) pointed out that there was no evidence to suggest that these settlements
were concentrated in Patani4. However, from the comments of the Prime Minister at the time,
Sarit Thanarat, in the Bangkok Post, it is clear that one of the goals of resettling Thais in Patani
was to wipeout the Malay identity of the region. The Prime Minister was deplored by that fact
that the inhabitants of Patani could not speak Thai and so to strengthen the Thai identity in the
region Thais from the north should resettle there in order to increase loyal Thai blood (The
Bangkok Post, 1960).

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Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda who led the country for most of the 1980s is seen a
key orchestrator in resolving the conflict in Patani during his tenure. He set up a new institution
called the Southern Border Provincial Administration Centre (SBPAC) for the purpose of
providing a key communication channel between the Patani provinces and the central
authoritative power in Bangkok. This era was seen as the democratisation period of Thai politics
which, as argued by Liow (2004), gave a voice to the Malay community. Prime Minster Prem
Tinsulanonda was also seen as successfully crushing the insurgency as well as providing
economic development to the region under the supervision of the SBPAC (McDermott, 2013).
As stated at the beginning of this chapter, to understand the tensions between the Thai
state and Patani it is necessary to follow the development of the Thai nation. Anything
challenging the homogeneity of Thai society is seen as a serious threat to Thailands existence
even in contemporary times when there are no longer threats from colonial powers. It may seem
as though concessions have been made by the Thai authorities and that assimilation is a thing of
the past. For instance, Wattana (2008) points out that Muslims in Thailand are able to choose
Muslim names, that Muslim prayer rooms exist in many public spaces and Muslim women have
the freedom to wear the hijab in public. However, as stated earlier, the Thai state incorporated
religious tolerance into its idea of what was meant by being Thai through its invention of ThaiIslam.
As for state tolerance towards the ethnicity and culture of citizens of Thailand, arguably
nothing has changed since King Chulalongkorn made the decision to centralise political power
over a hundred years ago. There is still this fear that granting autonomous powers to the
peripheral regions of Thailand, such as Patani will lead to the break-up of the country
(McDermott, 2013) and the arrogant attitude that all those living in Thailand must only have a
Thai identity is still prevalent in Thai politics.
For instance, when the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), which was set up by
the government to provide a solution for the conflict in Patani, recommended making Malay an
official language in the unstable region, the head of the Privy Council and former Prime Minister
Prem Tinsulanonda rejected the NRC proposal. As far as he was concerned there was no room
for compromise as the country is Thai and the language is Thai (The Nation, 2006). There are
major barriers against advocating autonomy in Thailand. McDermott (2013) points out that
policymakers fear being accused for sympathising with the insurgents if they bring up the idea of
creating an autonomous region in Patani.

What is Driving the Violence in Patani? Root Causes and Aggravating Factors
The literature on the violence in Patani represents most areas of the social sciences and almost all
of the academic work in this field has attempted to explain what the cause of the violence is.
However, what is missing in the literature is a clear distinction between the root causes of the
conflict and the aggravating factors fueling the violence. The reason why it is important to make
this distinction is that by addressing the root cause, one is able to understand how to move
towards bringing stability to the region. While the aggravating factors intensify the violence in
Patani they do not explain on their own how to resolve the conflict.

Adam John

Working Paper

The overwhelming consensus amongst academics is that the current conflict is an


insurgency5 against the Thai state. Even skeptics like Marc Askew who question how much of
the violence is due to the insurgency between insurgent fighters and Thai military forces
acknowledges that the violence is by and large insurgency-driven (Askew, 2010). Thai authority
officials do not unanimously follow this consensus. For instance, the National Reconciliation
Commission argued that the insurgency was playing a minor role in the recent wave of violence
in the region (Askew, 2010). Zawacki (2012) reported that the spokesman of the Commander of
the Fourth Army Region6 at an Amnesty International public launch claimed that 80 per cent of
the violence in Patani was due to criminality than rather ideology.
However, the academic consensus not only agrees that the violence is insurgency-driven
but that the insurgency is localised with no evidence of links to international groups (Cline,
2007; Croissant, 2007; Melvin, 2007; Askew, 2010; Barter, 2011; Liow, 2011) Jitpiromsri and
McCargo (2010) go as far as to conclude that the current insurgency is a reconfiguration of the
past insurgency movements in Patani. It is fair to deduce that that the root causes of the violence
are therefore the political struggles of the armed rebellion against the state.
There is a clear correlation with Patanis historic political struggles and the states
assimilation policies. The violent rebellions in the first half of the 20th century came as a result of
the governments interventions which were seen as threatening the Malay identity such as the
Primary School Act (Dorairojoo, 2004). In Jones (2007), the violence in Patani over the past
century was categorised into three waves. She saw the assimilation policy of resettling Thais
from the north of the country in Patani as what drove the insurgency activities from the 1960s
and onwards. Parks (2009) argues that the fact that assimilation was forced upon the Malays of
Patani, unlike the Malays of Satun7, was what led to the resistance which still exists today. Liow
(2004) sees the political conflict as always having existed because Malays wish to maintain their
ethnic identity within the Thai nationalist project. In addition, the Malays feel that their identity
is threatened with extinction because of the states policies imposed on them (Wattana, 2006;
Storey, 2008).
A call for political change in Patani can explain the root cause of the violence in the
region but perhaps cannot explain the aggravating factors of violence throughout the last century,
especially as to why there has been a huge surge in violence since 2004. Explaining these
aggravating factors is not straightforward as there are many which have been put forward in the
literature. What is more, many of these factors seem to be overlapping. For instance, Askew
(2010) argues that there is a confusing overlap between criminals, local political groups and the
insurgents which adds to the disorder of the region and blocks any realistic chances of moving
towards decentralising political power.
Others also claim that at least in the past there has been a link to insurgent groups and
criminal gangs benefitting from the political instability of the region (Liow, 2004). However,
Melvin (2007) disagrees and expects that to a large degree, the insurgents are not involved in
criminal activity. A former Thai Prime Minster believes criminality amongst certain elements of
the military and police exists which includes killings linked to illegal business activities
(McDermott, 2013). Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010) admit that Thai security forces are likely to
have been involved in criminal activities for personal gain but believe this phenomenon cannot
explain the majority of the current violence.
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There is also the claim that there are overlaps between local political rivalries and
personal conflicts in Patani (Askew, 2008) which is reiterated by the military (Jitpiromsri and
McCargo, 2010). Abuza (2011) believes that most of the violence between Malays has always
been about local power struggles. At the beginning of the recent surge of violence in Patani a
link was made between the increase in drug and substance abuse and the rise in violence in the
region. However, no evidence was ever found to validate this link (Jitpiromsri, and Panyasak,
2006; Melvin, 2007). Abuza (2011) points out that retaliatory attacks are increasing which
perhaps can be explained by the victimhood that Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri (2011) believe is felt
by both Thais (from the insurgents) and Malays (from the security forces). This feeling of
victimhood from both ethnic groups then acts as a justification to commit violence.
Unlike the existence of a consensus that the root cause of the violence is driven by an
insurgency movement, the role of poverty and lack of development as aggravating factors is
contested in the literature. However, as for the Thai authorities, a lack of economic development
has often been seen as a reason for the conflict (Melvin, 2007). Dorairojoo (2004) points to the
fact that poverty was seen as a root cause for the support of the insurgency. The governments
commitment to improving the economic conditions of Patani in the 1980s was therefore seen as a
key part of reducing support for the insurgency which in turn was followed by a relatively
peaceful period in the region (Dorairojoo, 2004; UNICEF, 2004).
The Surayud administration which followed the military coup in 2006 attempted a similar
strategy under the belief that the underlying cause of the conflict was due to the poor economic
conditions of the Malays (Storey, 2008). Development never occurred due to the fact that outside
investments were not attracted to the unstable region and violence actually increased during the
Surayud administration. This does not suggest that economically developing the region can
resolve the conflict. On the contrary, the only way to develop the region is to first resolve the
conflict.
A more convincing argument is that Malays feel economically marginalised. Croissant
(2007) sees this as one of the key factors which have led to local grievances. Suhrke (1977) saw
a skewed economic structure in Patani with Thais and Thai-Chinese dominating the public and
private sector, respectively, as a cause of local grievances. She argued that the two
aforementioned groups make up the higher socio-economic strata whereas the Malays are
restricted to agriculture. One may argue that the socio-economic structure in Patani has changed
since the 1970s, however, Wattana (2006) states that there is a feeling amongst Malays that they
have not benefitted from the recent development projects.
On the other side of the debate, Jitpiromsri, and Panyasak (2006), Melvin (2007),
Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010), and Abuza (2011) have all indicated that poverty or socioeconomic problems are not root causes of the conflict. Askew (2008) agrees with the latter
studies, however, sees poverty and socio-economic problems as still acting as a barrier to
resolving the conflict. Jitpiromsri, and Panyasak (2006) also admit that socio-economic problems
are contributing factors. Conversely, Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010) see development projects
as doomed to fail in the current climate while Abuza (2011) urges that development initiatives
will in fact aggravate the situation since insurgent groups often target economic infrastructure.
Jitpiromsri, and Panyasak (2006), Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010), and Abuza (2011) use
different arguments to invalidate the link between poverty and violence. The former study used
Geographic Information System (GIS) data to see if there was a relationship between the areas
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where most attacks had been committed and the villages where there was a high proportion of
inhabitants living under the poverty line. They found no evidence to suggest that there was a link
between violence and poverty. Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010) argued that poverty could not
explain the recent surge in violence in 2004 since at this time the rubber industry, which many
Malays operate in, was booming due to high international rubber prices. Another popular
argument which was used by Abuza (2011) is that Patani actually ranks high, nationally
speaking, in certain development indicators. Moreover, Patani surpasses many regions in the
north and northeast of Thailand which do not have major problems with violence like Patani.
The insurgency is seen as a localised political struggle between Malay insurgents and the
Thai state. However, it has been argued that there is a much larger national political struggle
which is being fought out, among other places, in Patani. This has led Tan-Mullins (2009) to
describe the conflict in Patani as a microcosm of the political contest between two national
political powers. The first has been described by McCargo (2008) as the network monarchy
which is made up of ex-military commanders and royalist supporters from the Privy Council as
well as others connected to the military, and have the backing of the monarchy.
The other group is seen as Thaksins political supporters including the Royal Thai police
force. The military, as opposed to the police, has controlled operations in Patani since the
beginning of the 1960s with the creation of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC)
(Zawacki, 2011). The militarys dominance in Patani continued when Prime Minister Prem
created the SBPAC in 1981. The balance of power changed when Prime Minister, Thaksin
Shinawatra dismantled the SBPAC which effectively handed over power in security affairs from
the military to the police (Tan-Mullins, 2009).
It has been argued that dismantling the SBPAC contributed to the conflict in two ways.
Firstly, Thaksin had taken away a tool of communication between Bangkok and local Malay
leaders which was seen as playing a major role in bringing relative peace to Patani during the
1980s and 1990s. Secondly, power sharing groups in the SBPAC who gained personal benefits
had suddenly had their power taken away from them which led to old political national rivalry
inflaming and which manifested itself in Patani (Tan-Mullins, 2009). Interestingly, after the
military coup of the Thaksin administration, the new installed government re-established the
SBPAC (Zawacki, 2012)8.
Another major factor which is seen as aggravating the violence in Patani is the behavior
of the governmental institutions which operate in the region and adds to the illegitimacy of the
state. Counter-insurgency actions and the role of Thai institutions in the conflict have been
identified as exacerbating the conflict in numerous ways (See Wattana, 2006; Cline, 2007;
Jitpiromsri and McCargo, 2008; Jerryson, 2009; Barter, 2011; Engvall, 2010; Sarosi and
Sombatpoonsiri, 2011; McDermott, 2013).
One source arguably comes from a lack of professionalism. Cline (2007) pointed out that
Patani was seen as a dumping ground for incompetent and corrupt officials sent by Bangkok.
This may have helped fuel constant unrest throughout the years but it does not explain the 2004
surge in violence. Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2008) agree and believe that blunders and missteps
were made by the government around the time of the surge in the violence. One imagines that
they are referring to the heavy handedness of the military in the events which took place at the
Krue Se mosque and Tak Bai. The previously mentioned argument by Tan-Mullins (2009), that
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the dismantling of the SBPAC was a major blow to providing peace to the region, is supported
by McDermott (2013). He added that the Thaksin administrations disregard of the importance of
the SBPAC led to the Thai state losing allies with links to the insurgency movement.
Some researchers have attacked major components of the counter-insurgency strategy.
Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri (2011) believe the policy of creating and heavily arming local
civilian militia forces in Patani adds negatively to the conflict and fuels a sense of an ethnoreligious clash between Malays and Thais. Jerryson (2009) condemns the militarisation of
Buddhist temples which brings monks directly and indirectly into the counter-insurgency efforts
and which also adds to the religious tensions in Patani.
Another way in which state institutions in Patani have been criticised is by the fact that
there are simply too many of them which weakens the effectiveness of counter-insurgency
efforts and increases the illegitimacy of the Thai state (Barter, 2011). In fact, trust in the
government prior to the recent surge in violence in Patani was found to be associated with high
rates of violence (Engvall, 2010). This supports the idea that weak state institutions in Patani are
aggravating the conflict. Wattana (2006) agrees that at least in the last decade a distrust of the
Thai security forces has played a major role in fuelling the violence in Patani.

How to Resolve the Conflict: Suggestions from the Literature


Resolving the conflict essentially means addressing the root causes of the violence. Although a
lot of the literature suggests that the Thai state has never had the political will to confront these
causes, there are some which feel that Thailand has successfully achieved this in the past. Storey
(2008) believes that the state tackled these root causes in the 1980s under the Prem Tinsulanonda
administration which switched from strictly military measures to addressing the political disputes
of the region. This involved directly governing Patani through the SBPAC which improved
dialogue between local leaders and Bangkok. While this was seen as resolving political
grievances,
Prems steps towards investing in the local economy were seen as tackling the economic
grievances of Patani. Croissant (2007) believes that in order to resolve the current instability the
government needs a counter-insurgency strategy policy which stabilises security in the region
followed by policies which address the economic, political and cultural grievances of Patani.
This sounds very similar to what Storey (2008) believes the government achieved in the 1980s.
Askew (2010) indicates that the different government administrations during the last
decade have tried to follow a similar policy to Prems administration by first containing the
security situation and then providing economic development to the region which is seen as the
key to legitimising the state in the eyes of the local inhabitants. However, one has yet to see
whether these development packages hold the key to resolving the conflict as the violence has
yet to be contained.
Counter-insurgency efforts by the security forces are expected to play an important role
in resolving the conflict by others too. Although Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010) reported that
the root cause of the conflict is due to political grievances, they are not so confident that a
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political solution will bring peace to the region unless an effective counter-insurgency effort puts
enough pressure on the insurgency movement.
Another aspect of counter-insurgency efforts as stated by Askew (2008) is that it must be
done in a way which does not marginalise the majority of the population who are not involved in
the insurgency. Others believe this is exactly where the government is failing. Barter (2011)
argues that it is not a lack of security agencies; on the contrary, his concern is that there are too
many. Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri (2011) agree and call for the government to bring an end to
civilian militia forces as well as reversing the proliferation of arms in Patani which has occurred
since 2004. They pointed to other conflict zones around the world where using civilian militias
as part of counter-insurgency efforts actually blocked future possibilities of peace and caused all
sorts of social problems in society.
Proposing some form of autonomy to Patani seems like a suitable prescription since it
was when the Siamese monarchy took away Patanis autonomous rights over a hundred years
ago that the rebellions against the state began. It is not surprising then that some researchers
(Horstmann, 2008; Engvall, 2010; Jitpiromsri and McCargo, 2010; Barter, 2011) have
recommended some degree of political decentralisation for Patani. However, one can see why
the idea of giving autonomy to Patani is almost unthinkable to many of Thailands political
elites. One only has to look back at the development of Thailands nationalist roots starting with
King Chulalongkorns decision to centralise power and homogenise the nation for the sake of
keeping the Kingdom together. McDermott (2013) sees this unwillingness for contemplating
decentralising power as one of the major barriers towards progress in Patani and what is more
disappointing is Abuzas (2011) concern that this issue cannot seriously be addressed by
Bangkok until national political rivalries can be solved.
Even with the hypothetical political will on the governments side, McDermott (2013)
doubts that governance reform on its own will resolve the conflict in Patani. On the contrary, if
concessions were made prematurely, for instance, he even sees such reforms as increasing
insurgent attacks as the insurgent groups may consider the concessions as indicating that the
pressure of the insurgency is strengthening.
It is a fair point to make that autonomy on its own is unlikely to reduce violence. Barter
(2011) points to the experiences of Aceh in Indonesia where peace did not come until several
years after the region was granted autonomy from Jakarta. He states that peace did not come
until the popular insurgency movement made a ceasefire with the government, formed a political
party, and took over office from the old guard. Barter (2011) does not believe the Patani
insurgency movement has the support to re-enact the success of Aceh therefore he does not
expect that autonomy will resolve the situation in Patani. Instead, he thinks that certain areas
should be decentralised such as the local education system and allowing the medium of
instruction to be in Malay.
Horstmann (2008) agrees and thinks decentralisation should go further by supporting
village economic networks as well as increasing the number of Malays in local governmental
jobs to at least 50 per cent9. Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2008) insinuate that agreeing to at least
some form of autonomy is the best solution to bringing peace to Patani as it often makes up part
of the negotiations between insurgency movements and states. Parks (2009) believes that
Thailand has in fact its own example of where it gave a degree of decentralised power to another
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Malay province, namely Satun and as a result conflict was avoided. Unlike in Patani, there has
never been a military presence in Satun and local Malay elites were left to govern the region.

The Governments Reaction to the Violence in Patani


Since violence in Patani reached unprecedented levels in 2004, there have been several
administrations representing both sides of the political factions in Thailand. While policies
towards Patani have differed between governments, there have been general trends which are
important to acknowledge as these trends will affect how violence in the region progresses. In
many ways, the governments policy towards Patani seems to be business as usual, namely a
heavy military presence in counter-insurgency and development projects with the desire of
containing the situation in Patani so as not to internationalise the conflict. There has, however,
been a further development in the governments policy which is the use of vast numbers of
militarised civilians in the counter-insurgency initiative.
Forty five per cent of the countrys entire military forces are stationed in Patani which
makes up just 4 of the 76 provinces of Thailand (Amnesty International, 2009). The professional
military forces in Patani are made up of 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 rangers, and 20,000 police
(Abuza, 2011). Entire battalions occupy between one and two districts (Askew, 2008).It is
expected that there will eventually be over 100,000 paramilitaries that will make up the rest of
the counter-insurgency forces which is the equivalent of 5.7 per cent Patanis entire population
(Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri, 2011).
However, these security forces are not exactly operating alongside one another. Quite the
contrary, these state forces fall under different competing authorities including the police,
military and Ministry of the Interior, which have a reputation of poor co-operation with each
other (Barter, 2011). In fact, the rivalry between these agencies has led to intelligence failures
(Barter, 2011). Jerrysons (2007) criticism of the military forces is that many of them come from
other parts of the country and lack knowledge about the Patani region which adds to tensions
between locals and security forces.
Comparing the military budget in Patani with the size of the Patani economy helps put
things into perspective. The combined size of the Pattani, Yala and Narathiwats economy in
2007 was just over 120 billion Baht (UNDP, 2009). Between 2004 and 2012 the government
spent 161 billion Baht on resolving the conflict in Patani. Approximately 70 per cent of this (110
billion Baht) was spent on counter-insurgency operations (Zawacki, 2012). The amount spent on
counter-insurgency operations in 2007 alone was the equivalent of just over 14 per cent of the
entire economy of the three Patani provinces10. Despite so much being spent on resolving the
conflict, Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri (2011) describe how a new security economy is growing in
Patani where due to the governments relaxation of gun laws since 2004 and the failure of the
counter-insurgency to contain the violence, a lucrative gun economy is growing.
Guns are not only easier to purchase now (for Thais), they are also being subsidised by
the government as well as being freely distributed to local Thais and officials in particular
(Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri, 2011). What is more, ammunition can be bought in unlimited
quantities from police stations as well as from civilians who command local militias (Sarosi and
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Sombatpoonsiri, 2011). Ammunition can also be bought from village headmen where there are
no age limits on purchases (Zawacki, 2012).
Access to firearms for Malays, however, is not only legally restricted but owning a
firearm arguably puts Malays in more danger as Malays who are found to be owning a weapon
are accused for being involved in the conflict by the security forces (Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiri,
2011). The aforementioned authors believe that this policy of arming civilians is adding to the
feeling of discrimination felt by many Malays. However, McDermott (2013) argues that the
Malay community actually supports these militias as there are many Malays operating in these
forces. If anything, the presence of civilian forces not only increases tensions between Malays
and Thais but also within the Malay community.
Civilians who are seen as collaborating with the government are often targeted by the
insurgents. Village chiefs and Buddhist monks fit this category. The responsibilities demanded
from village chiefs by the state include mobilising and providing intelligence to some of the
militia forces. Therefore, as Barter (2011) puts it, rather than being seen as representing the
village to the state, village chiefs are viewed as representing the state to the village.
The relationship between security forces and monks is controversial. Jerryson (2009)
accuses the state of using former military personnel as militant monks to defend Buddhist
temples as well as working alongside security forces. In addition, temples are turned into military
compounds for housing security forces and Amnesty International has accused the military of
using temples as unofficial detention centers where suspects have been reportedly tortured
(Amnesty International, 2009). The governments decision to turn Buddhist temples into military
spaces is exacerbating relations between Malays and Thais in Patani (Jerryson, 2009).
A policy of impunity for security forces remains strong in Patani. On August 1 2013, the
Supreme Court found all of the military personnel who were involved in the events in Tak Bai in
2004 not guilty of 85 Malay civilians who died while in custody of the military (Amnesty
International, 2013). The court concluded that the military was simply doing its job. The courts
decision did not come as a surprise since legally under the Emergency Decree and Internal
Security Act, security forces are granted near full immunity for their actions (Abuza, 2012). The
Emergency Decree allows anyone suspected by security forces of being involved in the
insurgency to be held for 30 days without charge (McDermott, 2013). The only justice for the
victims and their families of the conflict therefore comes in the form of financial compensation
from the government. In 2012, the Minister of Justice reported that victims of violence in Patani
could receive 7.5 million Baht in compensation (McDermott, 2013).
In the 1990s, the government initiated its new security strategy in Patani which was based
on a development as security approach (Rahimmula, 2003) which is perhaps why it is
sometimes difficult to distinguish between military operations and development programs. To
begin with, the government places ISOC in charge of the disbursement of most of the 63 billion
Baht funds which have been allocated for development programs in Patani (Abuza, 2011). In
many instances, it is the military themselves who perform the development activities (Askew,
2008). When interviewing a local journalist, Zawacki (2012) reports how the armys
implementation of these unsustainable development projects is distorting the local economy.
UNICEF also reported how government development projects are seen as disregarding local

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input and how much of the benefits of these projects go to business interests outside of the
region.
The economic status of the Patani population adds to the bad sentiments felt about these
development projects. Jitpiromsri and McCargo (2010) believe the governments policy of using
development projects to enhance military operations is failing as official statistics show that
poverty in the region has not dropped. Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiris (2011) concern is the type of
economic activity the government is helping to support in the region. They stress how the
majority of the jobs available to Patani youth in the name of development are as security
volunteers. This only brings yet more civilians into the conflict.
Containing the violence is a concern of the government, but perhaps just as important is
ensuring that the conflict remains a domestic dispute of Thailand without interference from
international parties. Askew (2008) notes how negative media reporting of the situation in Patani
is a major concern for the government as they wish to avoid foreign intervention. He also adds
that negotiations between insurgent groups and the government have been blocked by the latter
as the government accused the insurgents of internationalising the situation.
Zawacki (2012) believes that the conflict in Patani meets all of the requirements to be
defined as a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) which under international humanitarian
law would give Patani civilians more legal rights as well as holding security forces more
accountable for their actions. Zawacki (2012) suggests that Thailands refusal to recognise the
situation in Patani as a NIAC leads the state to blame the violence on criminal activity and
banditry so as to confine the conflict to Thai criminal law, which is much more politically
convenient for the Thai state.

Conclusions
The paper has attempted to illuminate the reasons behind the surge in violent attacks which has
made Patani one of the most unstable regions in the world. It argues that while the literature has
suggested numerous drivers behind the violence, it is important to distinguish between the root
cause of the conflict and aggravating factors which are fuelling the violence. The paper will end
with concluding remarks concerning addressing the root cause of the instability which is
necessary for resolving the conflict. However, since addressing the root cause is unlikely to be
sufficient in resolving the conflict without confronting the aggravating factors, important points
on the latter are now raised.
The major aggravating factors extracted from the literature and reported in this paper
include; 1) the militarisation of the region including the use of civilian militia and public spaces,
such as Buddhist temples, 2) an excess of illegitimate state institutions which lack
professionalism and undermine one another, 3) national political rivalries whose competition
channels through the local state institutions and manifests into poor collaboration in areas such as
counter-insurgency, and 4) economic marginalisation felt by the Malay community. Ironically,
all four of these factors are a direct result of the governments policies towards resolving the
conflict. The solution to alleviating these destabilising policies is, as Barter (2011) argues, for the
government to do less, not more, which I would add, includes the military especially.
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Sarosi and Sombatpoonsiris (2011) call for disbanding civilian militias and restricting
gun ownership along with what one would naturally infer from Jerryson (2009), which would be
for security forces to stop using Buddhist temples as military spaces, would be the most positive
form of action for de-militarising the region.
An effective way to reduce the excessive number of inefficient institutions would be to
follow Barters (2011) recommendation of getting rid of overlapping administrative bodies and
intelligence agencies. This links in with confronting the destabilising effect of competition
between different political forces, which undermines counter-insurgency operations.
Conglomerating these different political factions into one institution would force the different
groups to collaborate as resources and intelligence would have to be shared and these parties
would not be able to function separately. Currently, the balance of power and control of
resources is too much to the advantage of the military which adds to tensions within the security
forces.
Finally, the military or any other security force should not be involved in development
projects in the region, let alone conducting them themselves without participation from the local
community. Resources for development should be in the hands of local community organisations
which are made up of the Patani inhabitants. If the government is truly concerned about the poor
state of education and health in Patani11 then improving the access of Patani Malays to working
in these sectors as well as providing a better service in these areas for Patani Malays can be
facilitated in allowing the local language, Yawi, to be used in these public sectors.
There are many options available to the government in attempting to resolve the conflict
in Patani. However, for any real chance of resolving the conflict, the government has to be
seriously committed to tackling the root cause of the conflict. Without this political will, any
other peace initiatives will have been made in vain. The Thai state has to officially recognise the
existence of the Patani Malay identity, to give it an equal status to the Thai national identity
within the Patani region, and to stop trying to assimilate the Patani Malays into Thais. This may
seem trivial to outsiders but it has serious symbolic meaning to Patani Malays and especially to
those involved in the Patani insurgency movement.
Likewise, this recognition is anything but trivial for the Thai state as it means a complete
revision of the governments attitude to its ethnic minorities since the beginning of the Thai
nationalist project over a hundred years ago. This brings us back to the argument held by many
state officials that giving such concessions to the Patani Malays will attract demands from other
ethnic groups within Thailand for the same recognition. The simple answer to this is yes, and of
course it should if the country is to live up to its self-proclaimed status as the land of the free.
In reality, however, many ethnic minorities may show no interest in forming a distinct
identity to the Thai identity. For instance, the ethnic Malays in Patanis neighboring province of
Satun have never showed any interest in differentiating themselves from Thais, apart from
stating that they are Muslim. Likewise, the 9.4 million ethnic Chinese who make up 14 per cent
of Thailands population (The CIA Factbook) are also unlikely to show much interest in adopting
another identity other than Thai or Thai-Chinese. The point is that all citizens of Thailand should
have the choice to decide their own identities, whether it be simply Thai or another ethnic
identity, such as Malay, Lao or Northern Khmer, for example.

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Sooner or later, Thailand will have to address its attitude towards its ethnic minorities
whether it decides to seriously commit itself to resolving the conflict in Patani or not. Although
there is no longer a strong resistance to Thai hegemony amongst the Isan (meaning
northeasterners in Thai), the majority still refer to themselves as Lao privately, use their own
language, which is distinct from Thai and the Lao language which is spoken in neighbouring
Laos, and have a strong feeling of being treated as second-class citizens in Thailand (McCargo
and Hongladarom, 2004). On the other hand, according to Vail (2007), the northern Khmer, of
which there are over one million speakers in Thailand, do not show any interest in conserving a
distinct identity from Thai. However, they still face major social stigmatism and choose to hide
their Khmer roots through fear of denigration from the Thai populace.
The treatment of ethnic minorities as inferior to ethnic Thais is problematic as they make
up a substantial proportion of the countrys population. The Lao, from the Isan region represent
over 20 million of all Thai citizens (McCargo and Hongladarom, 2004) which means they are an
important source of political support for anyone who aims to lead the country. Unlike the ThaiChinese, it was the Thai state which came to the Malays, Lao, Northern Khmer and other ethnic
groups and not the other way around. Thailand fails to officially recognise and respect this, and
the ethnic minorities should not forget this either.

Notes
1

The Global Terrorism Index is a product of the Institute for Economics and Peace and is calculated by taking into
account; 1) the total number of terrorist incidents, 2) the total number of fatalities caused by terrorism, 3) the
number of injuries caused by terrorism, and 4) the approximate level of property damage caused by terrorist
incidents. The index defines terrorism as violent acts committed by non-state parties.
2
This was known as the Baan Namsai Rebellion in response to the Primary School Act in 1921.
3
This was the Dusun Ynor Rebellion where 400 Malays and 30 Thai police were killed.
4
There were 49 settlements in total nationally which were supported under the Self Help Resettlement
Programme. Six of these settlements were in Patani (Suhrke, 1977).
5
The term insurgency describes the armed rebellion of a non-state party against the constituted authority of the
Kingdom of Thailand.
6
The Fourth Army Region covers South Thailand.
7
Satun is a province of Thailand where the majority of the population is ethnic Malay but who generally identify
themselves as Thai and has effectively assimilated into Thai society (Parks, 2009).
8
Zawacki (2012) indicates that ISOC, a military dominated agency, commands most power when it comes to
counter-insurgency in Patani.
9
According to NSO (2003), only 30 per cent of civil service positions in Patani are currently filled by Malays.
10
The counter-insurgency budget for 2007 was taken from Abuza (2011).
11
According to the UNDPs Thailand Human Development Report 2009, the Patani provinces perform poorly in
education and health relative to the other provinces of Thailand.

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