By slow degrees, the seriousness of the insurgency in Southern Thailand is entering mainstream consciousness. The International Herald Tribune files a report which first emphasizes its seriousness then describes its most eerie characteristic, its anonymity. First the seriousness.
Some are already calling it war, a brutal Muslim separatist insurgency in southern Thailand that has taken as many as 2,000 lives in three years, with almost- daily bombings, drive-by shootings, arson and beheadings. It is a conflict the government admits it is losing. A harsh crackdown and martial law in recent years seem only to have fueled the insurgency, generating fear and anger and undermining moderate Muslim voices. ... The insurgents seem to be taking their war to a new stage, pitting local Buddhists against Muslims by attacking symbols of Buddhism — Thailand's dominant faith — with flamboyant brutality.
Now the anonymity.The insurgency is all the more difficult to combat because it does not show its face. Unlike similar movements around the world, this one has not set out its demands or published a manifesto. It is a collection of violent groups without an identifiable central leadership. ... "We are fighting a ghost," said Chidchanok Rahimmula, a lecturer in security at Prince of Songkhla University. ...
People are afraid now to stand close to a government official or a soldier or police officer, she said, potential targets of bullets or bombs.
"When we are in a restaurant, if we see a soldier or policeman nearby we hurry to leave," Chidchanok said. "In the shops near the university, if a soldier or policeman comes to buy something, the owner says, ' Quickly just buy something and leave.'"
Southern Thailand, she said, had become "a kingdom of terror, a kingdom of fear."
"We really wonder about their identity and how they can be doing this," she said of the insurgents. "They are destroying their own society. They kill the teachers. They kill the teachers who teach their own children."
But the anonymity that the International Herald Tribune describes is only partial. Much is known about some of those who are causing the trouble. The International Crisis Group has listed out the known insurgent groups. But less is known about their goals: is it separatism or a Caliphate; about their funding and who ultimately directs the insurgency.
Armed separatist groups have been active there since the late 1960s, with particularly virulent violence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The largest and most effective group of several operating then was PULO (Patani United Liberation Organization), which called for an independent Islamic state but whose thrust was more ethno-nationalist than Islamist. ... But new strains then appeared, with four particularly significant groups emerging or re-emerging, and major violence erupting in early 2004. The major groups active today include: BRN-C (Barisan Revolusi National-Coordinate, National Revolutionary Front-Coordinate); Pemuda, a separatist youth movement; GMIP (Gerakan Mujahidin Islam Patani, Patani Islamic Mujahidin Group), established by Afghanistan veterans in 1995, committed to an independent Islamic state; and New PULO, established in 1995 as an offshoot of PULO and the smallest of the active armed groups, is fighting for an independent state.
The South Asia Analysis Group thinks the chief foreign influence comes from Pakistan, and in particular groups based in Waziristan, where al-Qaeda is resurrecting itself in a new Dark Tower. In their view, Thais trained in Waziri madrasas provide the principal stimulus for the fighting in Southern Thailand. The strategic importance of Pakistan in the War on Terror was brought home by a leaked British intelligence report that literally thousands of jihadis were in Britain waiting to strike. It also asserted that Southwest Asia had surpassed the Middle East as the incubator of terrorism.
Entitled Extremist Threat Assessment, the document, which was drawn up this month, also discloses that Afghanistan, where more than 7,000 British troops will be based by the end of May, is expected to supersede Iraq as the location for terrorists planning Jihad against the West.
But finding out who masterminds the southern Thai insurgency would only get halfway. The remainder of the problem is what to do about it. Suppose it were true that Pakistan were the source of the terrorism? Lost in the criticism of US efforts in Iraq is the sad fact that no one, not the British nor anyone else, has found a way to "get at" terrorist havens without crossing borders. Against these threats -- in Iran, Waziristan and elsewhere -- how far will diplomacy and engagement go against shutting down the jihadis breeding sites? There is no escape from fighting terrorism and those who fancy themselves so much smarter than President Bush may now come forward and propose something a little more specific than a mere schedule of withdrawal as a strategy. Maybe the UN could convene a meeting to find a solution, but the proceedings will probably go something like this.
"You have heard why we are here. Anyone who has a good plan for ridding us of the cat will please tell of it. The meeting is open to all."
"Let us all run at him suddenly when he is not looking for us, and each give him a bite. That would surely kill him," said one brave mouse.
"But how many of us do you think he would kill?" said another mouse. "I will not risk my life nor that of my family." "Nor I"; "nor I"; "nor I," said many other mice.
"Let us steal his food and starve him to death," suggested another.
"That will only make him hungrier for mice," they replied. "That will never do."
"I wish we might drown him," said another; "but I don't know how we could get him into the water."
At last a little gray mouse with a squeaky voice went up to the front and spoke:
"I have a plan that will surely work. If we could know when the cat is coming, we could get out of his way. He steals in upon us so quietly, that we can not escape. Let us find a little bell and a string. Let us put the bell on the string and tie the string around the cat's neck. As soon as we hear the bell, we can run and get out of the cat's way."
"A very good plan," said Mr. Longtail. "We will ask our leader to say which mouse shall put the bell on the cat's neck."
At this there was a great outcry. One said, "I am so little that I can not reach high enough to bell the cat." Another said, "I have been very sick and am too weak to lift the bell"; and so the excuses came pouring in.
At last Mr. Graypate called to the crowd, "Silence! I shall choose no one. Who will offer to bell the cat?"
It was very quiet in the meeting. One after another of the younger mice went out. None but the older ones were left. At last they too went sadly home. No one would bell the cat.
Who will neutralize Iran and clean up the problem in Waziristan?