Saturday, February 17, 2007

Golf Diplomacy: Solving the Crisis in the South by Giving Mulligans


Malaysia's relations with its northern neighbour is warming to a new level, paving the way for Kuala Lumpur to play a role in helping Thailand solve the Muslim insurgency in its southern provinces.

MALAYSIAN armoured vehicles rumbling into Thai soil to raid communist insurgent camps is one of 48-year-old Panitan Wattanayagorn's memories of growing up in the Thai border town of Betong in the 1970s.

“We knew the Malaysian troops were in Thailand to fight the communist insurgency which was also a threat to us,” recalled Panitan, who is now foreign affairs adviser to the Thai government.

I haven't commented on the Thai-Malaysian love fest this week. Quite frankly, I don't think anything has been accomplished or will be accomplished except golf. Nitya Pibulsongkram's foreign office says that the Malays should mind their own business while Prime Minister Surayud desires their role as a mediator. Just like everything else in the Thai government the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. If this is Thailand's attempt at strategic confusion, it might be succeeding. Most people probably have concluded that Thailand's bungling day after day is due to typical Thai incompetence.

Nevertheless, I think Thailand should start paying attention to its successful neighbor instead of just winging it.

Malaysia's "radical Muslim problem" is contained for two reasons: 1. Malaysia has a very effective intelligence service that seems to nip the problems in the bud before they occur. 2. Malaysia is one of the few Islamic countries in the world where Muslims have democratic rights. A lot of the beefs that the radicals elements have do get handled through Malaysia's political system, and if the radicals try to get out of line, the security services make sure they stay in line.

Thailand, on the other hand, neither has an effective intelligence agency nor democracy and political freedom.

Also, the Muslims in the South, just like people from Isaan, are treated like second class citizens by the Central Thais.

Though Thailand has a long history of religious tolerance that it should be proud of, it doesn't have a very good history of "foreign" tolerance. The Central Thais have always treated their non-Thai periphery like slaves. Look at how the Thais treat the Burmese, the Lao and Cambodians. Just like slaves. The difference between them and the Malays, however, is that Malays actually fight back.

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