Saturday, January 2, 2010

Melayu Petani: A Nation Survives


The southern Thai provinces of Patani, Yala and Narathiwat have become hot-spot for insurgency against the Thai security forces. This has become very obvious since January 2004 when killings against security personnel and civilians have become a daily affair. To date more than 3,500 people has become victim of the insurgency. This includes both Thai Buddhist and some Thai Muslims has become victim of the insurgency. This includes school teachers, government servants, farmers, and Buddhist monks. Despite various attempts by various people to bring about a peaceful solution to the problem, there has been no sign to a stop to the killings.

The southern Thai provinces of Patani, Yala and Narathiwat borders Malaysia, was once an independent Malay sultanate known as Patani Raya or Negara Patani Darussalam. It is populated by ethnic Malays and has by far the largest number of Muslims living in Thailand, although Muslim communities also exist all over the country. These provinces were first subjugated by the kingdom of Siam in 1786. Total annexation of Patani began in 1909 when Siam (Thailand), carved out the three provinces which came to be known as Boriween Chet Huamuang [i](Tej Bunnag: 1976, Serajul Islam: 1998). In an attempt to subdue the Muslim region the Siamese government immediately absorbed all the three Muslim provinces into the kingdom. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 recoginzed Siamese sovereignty[ii] over Patani, Yala and Narathiwat (Nik Anuar Nik Mahmud: 1999). The imbalance of the treaty was a cause for concern since the Malay Sultan was not consulted in the process. Under King Chulalongkorn administrative reforms (Thesaphiban or The Local Administration Act,) in 1897, the kingdom developed a centralized administrative system and established authority over its territories, which stretches from the Burmese border in the Northwest and Laos and Cambodia in the Northeast and as far as the Malay States in the South.. It was also and act of consolidation of the authority and the modernization process embarked by King Chulalongkorn in the face of western colonial intrusion.

The central government in Bangkok at that time did not concede any autonomy to the local Muslim Sultan in the Muslim provinces of Patani, Narathiwat and Yala. Instead the government replaced members of the local aristocracy with officials known as Khaluang Thesaphiban or Governor General appointed directly from Bangkok. (Tej Bunnag: 1977). The problem with the Khaluang Thesaphiban was that they were ignorant of the Muslim religion and culture in the Southern provinces. This led to distrust, hatred, and antagonism between the Malay Muslims and the officials from the Central government.[iii].

In the late nineteenth century, the government institutionalized, patronized and developed a top-down policy of nation-building, which emphasized the importance of Khwamphenthai or “Thainess”, thereby compelling the transformation of the multiethnic society of Siam into a unified Thai nation. Bangkok managed dissension in the south mostly by leaving the Muslims alone before the imposition of the Thesaphiban. The situation in the Southern provinces aggregated when the government accelerated its effort to assimilate the Malay population especially after the bloodless coup by Phibul Songkram in 1932 when the absolute monarchy was abolished. (W.K.Che Man: 1990)[iv]. The ultra nationalist regime embarked on a policy of forced assimilation of the various minority cultures into the mainstream Buddhist "Thainess" or Khwamphenthai in order to develop, in David Brown's description, "the mono-ethnic character of the state" (Brown :1994, Rahimmula:2003).

Thai nationalism was to some extent a replication of the concept of French nationalism, with the conscious attempt to transform all ethnic peoples within its geographically defined borders into Thais. It was a political decision that the state managed political, cultural and social system that made it compulsory for those who sought to be in the Ekkalat Thai or the mainstream of Thai society to conform to the Central Thai culture and custom. Central Thai language was to be spoken and a Central Thai view of history was to be taught in all schools. By assimilation, anyone could become Thai if they learn to speak and act as a central Thai. There was less problem in assimilating the Tai people of Lanna (the north) and Isan (the northeast), than with the other ethnic groups (Selway: 2005). This was because although the people of Lanna and Isan were culturally different from the central Thais they however practised Buddhism. Assimilation for the Muslim Malays in Patani, Yala and Narathiwat would mean becoming Buddhist, which was considered against the fundamental teaching of Islam.

The disenchantment of the Muslim Malays in the South towards the Thais led to the emergence of many separatist movements in the 1940’s fighting for the independent of Patani. 1940s. Among them, was Gabungan Melayu Patani Raya (Union of Malay for a Great Patani) or GAMPAR founded in 1948 (Nik Anuar Nik Mahmud: 1999). Following the establishment of the Barisan Nasional Pembebasan Patani (BNPP) in 1963. (Rahimmula: 2003 :), violent clashes between guerrilla and Thai security forces were common in the southernmost provinces. In the mid-1970s, there existed more than 20 separatist organizations operating on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border.

However, the situation improved in the 1980s and 1990s under the new government of General Prem Tinsulanond (1980-88) that saw some changes in the government policies known as Thai Rom Yen or the Pacified South. Muslim cultural rights and religious freedoms were assured and the rebels were given a general amnesty. An economic development for the South was implemented and through this way the situation in the South was mitigated (Tan: 2003, Jones and Smith: 2003). A National Security Policy for the Southern Border Provinces (Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center (SBPAC) was also formulated based upon the concept of "development as security" approach (Rahimmula: 2003). This development was also greatly attributed by the deepening cooperation between the Thai and Malaysian Government.

Security along the border remarkably improved and this led to the decline of the insurgency as well (Abuza: 2003). In the late 1990s most observers described the insurgency as fading and fairly calm while peace was seen to have been restored (Rabasa: 2003, Tan: 2003).

[i] The sole purpose of dividing the province of Patani was to weaken the Sultan’s power and to administer the provinces centrally from Bangkok, where local administrator was replaced with official from other part of Siam. This was also in view of King Chulalongkorn policy of Thesaphiban.

[ii] The Burney Treaty was signed between Siam and the British in 1826, and acknowledged Siamese rule over northern Malay states of Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu. The treaty further acknowledge and assured British ownership over Penang and their rights to trade in Kelantan and Terengganu without the Siamese interfering in the state of affairs in those states. The Malay Sultans of the four Malay states were not represented during the treaty negotiation. However, in 1909 the Siamese and British signed a new treaty that void and superseded the 1826 treaty, and was known as the 1909 treaty, known as Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909, also known as the Bangkok Treaty of 1909, transferred the four Malay states from Siamese to British dominion.

[iii] For a detailed insight on how the Thai society was organized, see Akin Rabibhadana, The Organization of Thai Society in the Early Bangkok Period, 1782-1873, Ithaca: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1969. Cornell Thailand Project, Interior Report Series, No.12, Data Paper no. 74, ix.

[iv] W K Che Man. (1990). 'Muslim Separatism: The Moros of Southern Philippines and the Malays of Southern Thailand'. , Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

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