The Jihad in Indochina
A little background research on the insurgency in Thailand's south turned up the little-known fact that it is Southeast Asia's deadliest insurgency. About 1,200 people have been killed in connection with it in the last decade but fully one thousand of those have been since 2004. Like most insurgencies, it has its roots in history; in disputes between the Kingdom of Siam and its Malay neighbor states to the south. It was exarcerbated by colonial politics. Even World War 2 played a role when the Muslim Malays of the south requested British help against Bangkok, which had allied itself with imperial Japan.
But things got stirred up again under the impetus of the worldwide Jihadi resurgence in conjunction with an apparent Thai mismanagement of the insurgency. Strongarm tactics were substituted for intelligence gathering, possibly because police preoccupation with corruption undermined any efficiency. In the meantime, a new jihadi cadre began forming in the madrasas of Pakistan. Media reports following up the involvement of Britons of Pakistani origin in the London bombings uncovered the fact that nearly a thousand Muslim of Thai nationality (Patani) were studying in madrasas in Pakistan.
Despite promises by the Pakistani government to end the practice, and fear of American monitoring, many of these Muslim Thias simply moved to madrasas in the wild North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. Since recent news reports have suggested that al-Qaeda has re-established itself in the NWFP provinces of Pakistan, making the potential connection between the Jihad and the insurgency in southern Thailand as direct as possible.
Recent events in Thailand have been moving at a rapid pace. The upsurge in the South was in partly behind the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was attending the UN General Assembly session. The perception that the counterinsurgency lacked a political dimension may have prompted the appointment of a Muslim commander of the Thai Army, General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin. But that bought scant relief. A series of attacks forced the cancellation of New Years Day celebrations in the Thai capital. Not only did it prove a party-pooper, it unambiguously showed that the threat had moved out of the shadows of the south into the heart of Bangkok itself.
Six bombs were exploded nearly simultaneously across downtown Bangkok on New Years Eve as revelers began to turnout for dinner and the evening’s festivities. The first bomb exploded at the Victory Monument, an area crowded with food stalls, the terminus for small commuter vans from the northern districts. Subsequent bombings were at crowded locations, but not high profile ones and nowhere where the expat community and tourists would tend to congregate. These included two bombs in Klong Toey and in the parking lot of Bangkok’s largest Mall in an eastern district. The 6th bomb reportedly exploded in the movie theater in Bangkok’s newest and glitziest malls, the Siam Paragon.
Two more bombs were detonated just after midnight, this time in more heavily tourist areas. The first bomb exploded at a popular restaurant near the Pratunam Pier. Five people were wounded, including three foreigners, one of whom had his leg amputated. The second bomb went off in a pedestrian flyover that links two major malls, Central World and Gaesorn Plaza. A major concert that was supposed to take place outside Central World was earlier canceled. In addition, a suspected bomb was found in a crowded bar on Khao San road, the crowded backpacker quarter. A second bomb was found and disarmed at the Lumpini Night Bazaar.
It also demonstrated that despite the belated efforts by the Thai government at outreach, there was no magic bullet. The South Asia Analysis Group, a counterterror think tank concluded:
Hopes that the fact that the coup of September 19, 2006, was carried out by General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, the first-ever Muslim head of the Thai army, would make the jihadi terrorists of the South amenable to Government moves for a reconciliation have been belied so far. In fact, since the Army seized power, the terrorists have further stepped up their acts of terrorism in the South, targeting not only schools and Buddhist monks, but also Muslims perceived as co-operating with the Government. Those familiar with the mentality of the jihadi terrorists as seen in other parts of the world would not have been surprised by the way the jihadis have failed to respond to the General's offer of talks. Jihadi terrorists look askance at a Muslim public servant, whom they perceive as a collaborator of infidels.
The recent Chinese New Year attacks all across the southern provinces may have been aimed at driving the ethnic Chinese out. But in itself, it was a simply a continuation of a wave of IED attacks and assassinations that have been sweeping across the area while Thai forces, now in attempting to reform themselves, are struggling to cope. The Counterterrorism Blog notes that attempts have recently been made on a Thai Royal Princess' helicopter in addition to numerous attacks on Thai military vehicles.
the number of large (10-15kg) bombs has increased. They are occurring several times a week, rather than once or twice a month. ... Insurgents have also demonstrated greater proficiency with small arms. In mid-January several bombers engaged soldiers in a five-minute firefight after detonating an IED. The insurgents are more confident and are standing their ground longer. On 31 January, a sniper shot a police colonel in the head, severely wounding him. The colonel was part of an advance team that was securing a village in preparation for the Prime Minister and Crown Prince’s visit. ...
the majority of the targets, especially of drive by shootings, remain fellow Muslims, deemed to be collaborators ... 2007 has also seen an escalation in the number of civil disobedience cases, in particular those of women and children who surround police stations demanding the release of suspects. There have been three high profile cases in 2007. For example, some 50 veiled women surrounded a police station in Pattani’s Nong Chik district to demand the release of Mayadee Samah, a suspected insurgent arrested the day before. Also in Pattani, some 200 villagers sieged and vandalized a police station to protest the arrest of a suspected militant.? Most recently, more than 70 Muslim women and children staged protest. ... Teachers, who have been routinely targeted by insurgents announced that they had no confidence in the government's security plans to protect them. The region is bracing for another wave of school closures.
Meanwhile, the Thai Royal Army is attempting to create the basics of a counterterrorist infrastructure. Thirty local paramilitary companies are being organized. The Defense budget is being increased. A fingerprinting and "Smart ID" card system is being established. Things are starting, perhaps not from Square One, but from the basics. It is not clear whether the Jihad is now wholly in charge of the Thai Insurgency in the south. But it is clear that leading it is their goal.