Inside Thailand’s Hidden War

LEEDS – Thailand’s former prime minister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, recently ignited a furor when he proposed that the separatist campaign in his country’s Muslim-majority southern provinces might be solved politically, with a form of self-rule. Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party immediately called Chavalit’s remarks “traitorous.”

But recent developments surrounding Afghanistan’s elections have highlighted the shortcomings of using military force alone to resolve a civil war. This precedent offers an important lesson for Thailand and other countries facing intractable insurgencies. As Arisotle put it, “politics is the master science in the realm of action.”

In June 2006, I sat in a village in southern Thailand’s Yala province with several ordinary-looking young men who had taken part in extraordinary events. They had joined the militants who had attacked a dozen security checkpoints across three southern provinces on April 28, 2004.

Armed mainly with machetes and kitchen knives, 106 attackers perished that day, 32 of them inside Pattani’s historic Krue-Ze mosque, where they had taken refuge. Five members of the Thai security forces were also killed.