Connect with us

Southeast Asia

Irredentism and Islamic separatism in Thailand

Published

on

Image source: BenarNews

The one-month cessation of hostilities proclaimed at the beginning of April by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN, the “National Revolutionary Front”) already witnessed to its end on the very first days of May. April was the first month without a single attack in 16 years. Due to the COVID-19pandemic, the rebels themselves took the decision to “cease all the activities” unilaterally in order to give way to health workers to operate in a secure context. The group kept faith to its communiqué stating that the hostilities would resume if the police attacked them[1].

Since 1963, the BRN spearheaded the whole secessionist movement of Malay Muslims, and, in a later period, started to organize a proper rebellion against the state with hundreds of members. The BRN’s course of action was embedded in left-wing aspirations of an Islamic socialism and Malay nationalism, in pursuit of the creation an independent Malay-Muslim country.

Nowadays, one of the debates concerning the insurgency’s nature is hinged on the question of the possibility that the struggle may be no longer based on ethnic claim of land, but on the modern-day Islamic extremism. There has been a great concern by intelligence assessment agencies[2] that the separatists could be redirect into new forms of action, namely the transnational jihad, by external actors and social forces.

In fact, notwithstanding the ethnic-based violence, it may seem plausible to conjecture a slow insertion of the insurgents in the larger context of terrorism taking place mainly in the Middle East. Such conjectures could be made on the basis of several attacks perpetrated, where pattern of victims’ shared identity traits was not yet Thai but actually Christian. Among the organizations that partake in the insurgency, a few have not only been described by the UN as terrorist groups, but also, like in the case of Jemaah Islamiyah, have been found linked with Al-Qaeda[3].In this case indeed, it is correct to speak of a religious motive behind the killings as, in 2005, it got sadly famous with the beheadings of Christian girls in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Yet, the essence of the unrest itself seems still to be linked to an irredentist will of conquest, not a religious one aiming at the establishment of a panregional caliphate, which is typical of Daesh, al-Qaeda and al-Nusra, for example.

How is it then possible to discard the hypothesis of a jihadist motive? The BRN is not like the Jemaah Islamiyah. They have overtly declared their distance to Jemaah Islamiyah’s methods of warfare[4]. To BRN chiefs, there is no advantage in associating with jihadists, both for political convenience and for ideological reasons, although these may sometimes intertwine together.

The theatrical terrorism of ISIS and al-Qaeda, featured with mass killings, suicide bombings and identification of the whole West as the enemy, does not appeal to Thai insurgents, who have also tried to gain diplomatic support by Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia. Mimicking their style of action or openly siding with them would mean losing the little legitimacy that is left.

The ethnic-nationalistic goal puts the insurgents on another piece of the political chessboard: whereas Daesh and al-Qaeda have had notably the complete rejection and destruction of the western US-led international system, they would prefer to be a part of it, provided an independent state.

It may be of use to think of “jihad” and “jihadism” as two different concepts[5]. Whilst jihadism is more closely related to al-Qaeda and ISIS, asserting a transnational Islamic caliphate, the former may be intended more “simply” as a war against a non-Muslim enemy for, as in this case, a nation-building process – thus, virtually incompatible with the pan-Islamic state. As a matter of fact, it is already evident how different their projects fundamentally are, even conceptually. The Salafi doctrine embraced by the jihadists is altogether rejected by the military and ideological chiefs of the rebellion, meaning the BRN above all.

In Thailand, Salafism is spearheaded by the Saudi educated Ismail Lufti Japakiya, rector of the private Fatoni Islamic university, founded in 2004 by Arab foundations and now receiving government funding[6]. He preaches the reconciliation with the Thai state in a way that is not well-welcomed by the BRN, which is by eschewing violence and trying a more pacific way in approaching the issue. So, while separatists are generally against Salafism, the Thai government is fostering it in the perspective of laying down an alternative path for Muslims’ discontent.

Nevertheless, a collision of ideologies among the high-ranking leaders does not mean that the lower cadres are actually involved in these more nuanced questions. It is more realistic to think of the majority of them as engaged in a battle where one can get the most out of it when the Thai state and society is endangered.

The deadliest attacks of the latest years may shed a light on the question we are attempting to give an answer to. Some actors on this stage are clearly siding/sympathizing for UN-declared international criminals, but this does not permit to generalize to groups like the BRN or the PULO, who still remain organizations guilty of the death of civilians, children included[7].

Considering that the death toll, that was about 892 in 2007, went down to 218 in 2018, it does feel like having lost much of what was “accomplished”. On the other hand, there has been indeed a gradual rapprochement between the state and the rebels already before the shooting, represented by the talks to which the BRN have begun to participate just recently after years of internal disputes between currents. In the negotiations, the Majlis Syura Patani (Patani Consultative Council, MARA Patani) is the body that stands for the militant groups, which have shown availability for ceasing fire temporarily, due to the COVID-19 situation.

The shooting took place at a security checkpoint on 5th November 2019, when rebels stormed in killing fifteen among policemen and village defense volunteers, making it one of the most disruptive and violent attacks of the last 20 years, also given the use of more advanced techniques of guerrilla and technologies in making IEDs[8]. It is suggested that the perpetrators could have been the BRN[9] and, again, as the target was clearly defined as the police and the village defense volunteers, the jihadist path may be excluded.

Yet, the conditions for a jihadist transition are present, meaning the fact of being a Sunni minority fighting against a non-Muslim country around which has been built a narrative of oppression and new colonialism. If violent fringes like the Jemaah Islamiyah continue to perpetrate horrible acts such the abovementioned one, or, conversely, massacres like those in 2004 at the Krue Se Mosque and in Tak Bai  keep on happening, there will be always a high risk of Islamization relying on the exasperation of tones between the state and the insurgents, contextualized obviously in a broader framework where Salafist terrorism gets popularized and finds financial means to sustain its action.

Apart from exacerbating the whole situation once again, resuming the fight means that it will be unlikely to have the BRN do such a thing in the future. The peace talks represent now the best and only possibility for southern Thailand to reach stabilization, but it depends on how each side will be prone to concede to the other.


[1]Benar News. “Bloodshed Returns to Insurgency-hit Thai Deep South after Month of Inactivity.” 4 May 2020.

[2] Peter Chalk, 2008. “The Malay-Muslim Insurgency in Southern Thailand Understanding the Conflict’s Evolving Dynamic”. RAND National Defense Research Institute

[3]UN Security Council Resolution, Consolidated list of Taliban associates. 12 December 2006.

[4] 8 November 2017. “Jihadism in Southern Thailand: A Phantom Menace.” Report n°219, International Crisis Group.

[5]Ibidem.

[6] Murray Hunter, March 24, 2020. “The Changing Nature of Thailand’s Deep South Insurgency.”

[7]Report of the Secretary General on Children in armed conflicts, UN General Assembly Security Council, 2017.

[8]Matthew Wheeler, 2019. “Behind the Insurgent Attack in Southern Thailand”. International Crisis Group.

[9] BBC. Gunmen kill 15 in southern Thailand’s biggest attack in recent years.

I am a BA graduand in Political Sciences and International relations at "L'Orientale" University in Naples and currently studying as an exchange student at the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (SciencesPo, Asian Campus of Normandy).

Continue Reading
Comments

Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys

Published

on

Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.

Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.

The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.

Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
 first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank

Continue Reading

Southeast Asia

Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma

Published

on

With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.

Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective

I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.

It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.

Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management

Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.

I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.

The heart of forest management

People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.

Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.

Can legal change help the people?

Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.

As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.

Capitalists invasion

Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.

Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?

Less likely.

What can we do to protect the forest?

There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.

To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.

Continue Reading

Southeast Asia

Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific

Published

on

In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.

Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?

Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.

What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?

This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.

An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.

Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Africa Today16 mins ago

UN’s top envoy warns Great Lakes Region is ‘at a crossroads’

Speaking at a Security Council meeting on the situation in Africa’s Great Lakes region on Wednesday, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Huang Xia, told ambassadors that the countries concerned now...

Tech News26 mins ago

What Is A Mac Data Recovery Software & How Does It Work

With the advent of technology, data storage remains a crucial element of business and communication. Whether using a Windows PC,...

forest forest
Africa Today2 hours ago

African Union urged to address the threat of Congo forest logging driving extreme weather

Industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may severely disturb rainfall patterns across sub-Saharan Africa and bring about...

Finance2 hours ago

Serbia: Job Creation and Green Transition Needed for Sustainable Growth

Serbia’s economic recovery is gaining pace, with a rebound in private consumption and an increase in total investments, says the...

Middle East4 hours ago

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft...

Americas4 hours ago

Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents...

Americas6 hours ago

Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi

“It’s the economy, stupid.” That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion. However, the substance of...

Trending