Thailand has been marred by consistent Islamic militancy along the southern fringes, leading to significant loss of life and instability.
The region along the border with Malaysia has its own disadvantages in terms of monitoring by security forces, as militant groups operating in the area take advantage of the border access to Malaysia. In the latest CT operations, Islamic militants in Bacho district of Narathiwat province in southern Thailand have been targeted by Thai security forces since the end of September, resulting in the killing of five militants and two security personnel.
The militants in the jungle areas often take shelter in the difficult terrains and leave no opportunity to target security personnel when confronted.
The latest operation began when security forces tried to arrest militants hiding in a swampy forest after ambushing a police patrol in adjoining Chanae district, which led to the death of one police personnel. Earlier on September 22, militants carried out a hand-grenade attack in Panare district in the neighbourhood of Pattani province, damaging a police-station and killing one security personnel.
On August 3, militants targeted the operations base of the 45th Ranger Task Force in Narathiwat province, resulting in five causalities. Thai security forces have been carrying out operations continuously in the region and during the course of last year, around 20 militants have been killed.
The Malay Muslim militancy in southern Thailand has been found to be more associated with regional domination and opposition to the state for not allowing political and regional space to the Muslims. Hence, the battle is for self-determination over a specific territory.
Groups such as the Pattani Liberation Movement (PLM) and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) have their own different internal matrix and basically push the common narrative in favour of a larger role by the Muslims in the region in state affairs.
The BRN, formed in 1960, seeks independence of Pattani and ever since has built a strong network among its cadres along the southern fringes of Thailand, exploiting the easy access to Malaysia. The organisation is the main militant group leading militancy and has a cadre strength of around 9,000 of which around 1,500 are armed cadres.
The other prominent groups include the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO), the Gerakan Mujahideen Islami Pattani (GMIP) and the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK). These groups are driven by different ideologies, including Islamism, ethno-nationalism and Communism, but most of them are believed to be Islamist militants. Around 7,000 of them have been killed since the separatist insurgency reignited in 2004.
With the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, one has seen such Islamic militant groups gaining confidence and motivation to act more aggressively against security forces and the state. Groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS have kept a close watch on the developments in the region and would not lose the opportunity of creating a support base among these Islamic militant groups providing them with resources, finances and even manpower to expand their activities.
While there are no credible links between these southern Thailand-based separatist groups and the Al-Qaeda/ISIS, at the same time the possibility of their coming under the influence of trans-national terrorist entities cannot be ruled out.
The protracted conflict over such a long period without any solution could conflagrate the situation, compelling these groups to seek assistance and support from external forces. In South-East Asia, various radical Islamic entities, which have existed over a period of time striving to achieve their objectives, have ended up seeking support from the ISIS or Al-Qaeda to add venom to their anti-state activities. Such a possibility cannot be ruled out in Thailand too.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)
(Featured image source: forbes.com)