Narathiwat/Thailand: As India grapples
with a raging Maoist insurgency, it could take a leaf or two
from Thailand`s "soft power" approach aimed at dealing with
the unrest in its three Muslim-dominated restive provinces.
Thailand is investing a whopping USD 2 billion for the
period between 2009 and 2012 in three insurgency-hit provinces
of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat to upgrade the social and
economic infrastructure of the region.
"Through the doctrine of soft power we are winning the
hearts and minds of people. We try to bring justice and social
and economic development in the lives of people. This is the
reason that violent incidents have come down," Colonel
Songwit Noonparkdee, a top Thai military officer, told a news agency in
this restive province in south Thailand.
Earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his
government was determined to achieve stability and peace in
south Thailand through justice and development. "We
have comprehensive economic development targets for lifting
the locals up. We recognise much needs to be done."
"Our plan is to understand, reach out and develop.
Peace and harmony will return only when people feel they are
given respect and justice and share a common destiny of living
together," he had said.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described
the Maoist threat as the biggest internal threat to the
Naxal violence in India has claimed the lives of over
10,000 civilian and security personnel in the last five years
with significant rise in the number of killings in Left-wing
extremism-hit States, according to the Home Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Thailand military is extremely
apologetic about the 2004 Tak Pai incident in which 78 men
were suffocated to death.
Hundreds of men were stacked five to six feet deep
into the trucks by the military in which they died. The event
led to anti-military sentiments, in particular among the
Muslims and in general all over Thailand.
"We need to learn from incidents like Tak Pai. It
should not be repeated. To control violence we use soft power,
we want to win people to our side by providing them medical
help, employment, economic development and doing civilian
works," Noonparkdee said.
There are 30,000 Thai troops in the restive southern
region but the military claims that over half of them are in
non-combat mode and have been engaged in developmental
activities in the three restive southern provinces of Yala,
Pattani and Narathiwat.
The Thailand military is building its local units
consisting of Muslims for a pro-active conflict. In
Narathiwat, the military said, 4,000 Muslim soldiers are
engaged in counter-insurgency operations.
The military plans that as the situation becomes
normal, it would hand over power to local units.
Thai military is running self-sufficiency Muslim
villages in the restive Pattani province. It is also running
hospitals in the provinces to win over the people. There are
an estimated 2,000 villages consisting of two million
population in the three restive provinces.
When Abhisit Vejjajiva assumed the Premiership in 2008
he pledged to find a political solution to the separatist
movement. However he has increasingly adopted the stance of
his predecessors, repeatedly renewing the state of emergency
across the region and thereby giving wide-ranging powers and
immunity from prosecution to security forces operating there.
More than 4,000 people -- both Buddhists and Muslims
-- have been killed in the three southern provinces of
Thailand in the last six years in insurgency-related violence.
Insurgency in the Muslim-dominated southern Thailand
is attributed to historical, cultural and economic reasons,
including resentment among the local population to the 200
years of Thai occupation and the 1960 settlement of
northeastern Thais in the region.
Allegations are also abound of cultural and economic
imperialism in Pattani and of brutality and corruption by
security personnel in the region.