BP has previously blogged about the idea of autonomy for the Deep South when Chavalit raised the issue here, the idea of a referendum here, on a op-ed by Atiya here in the Bangkok Post,  another op-ed by Veera in the Bangkok Post here, an op-ed by Chandler Vandergrift in the Bangkok Post here. Independent researcher Jason Johnson has written an article for Asia Times on the Deep South. The article covers a range of topics, but BP wants to focus on comments about decentralization/autonomy/independence. Of particular interest is that Jason has spoken to a wide range of people, including insurgents and the military, about their views on decentralization/autonomy/independence. Key excerpts:

Despite military officials’ well-known opposition to such demands [political authority over their own affairs], there is some emergent recognition that substantial political restructuring would be better for the troubled region. Even former coup-period prime minister Surayud Chulanont is believed to be sympathetic to exploring such alternatives, according to a recent article by Srisompob Jitpiromsri and Duncan McCargo, leading academics on the region’s politics.

One leading military figure with extensive experience in the violence-plagued region expressed openness to more decentralized governance in an interview with Asia Times Online. However, he hedged that stability and security must be established first.  Moreover, like most other Thai officials this writer has interviewed, he claimed that granting enhanced political power to Malay Muslim leaders would not appease insurgents and probably would not reduce violence.

BP: What comes first, stability or decentralization? If decentralization is part of the political solution, how can you achieve the outcome of stability and security without decentralization? Will cover below the part whether it would appease the insurgents.

Jason continues:

Nearly all of 15 suspected insurgents interviewed by Asia Times Online at Inkhayut Camp revealed that their recruiters claimed that they will not stop fighting until they acquire independence from Thailand. The men also claimed that recruiters never mentioned autonomy or decentralization. In fact, very few of these men were even aware that these well-publicized political topics have been openly debated at seminars and conferences in recent years.

More revealing were the comments made by one detainee who authorities later believed was a highly-ranked member of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Coordinate (BRN-C), the separatist organization authorities and analysts believe has been responsible for most insurgent-instigated attacks since 2004. He claimed in an interview that substantial decentralization would dramatically reduce violence.

Meanwhile, BRN-C’s enigmatic leadership has still not made any formal demands – nor has it revealed this supposed union with PULO. But captured documents and interrogations indicate that BRN-C is more fervent about acquiring independence and aspires to establish an Islamic state. Detainees at Inkhayut Camp told Asia Times Online that local insurgent recruiters emphasized a need to implement Sharia criminal law – a part of Sharia strongly opposed by other nationalists and most other Muslims in the region.

Srisompob Jitpiromsri, director of the Pattani-based Deep South Watch, a monitoring organization, was the principal researcher on a team that recommended a new unit of governance that might address more realistic nationalist sentiments. Under this proposal, a new special ministry would be introduced and headed by one of the region’s elected members of parliament.

BP: A few different points.

First, BP is of the view that some form of substantive autonomy/decentralization would assist in reducing the violence. Sure the hardline insurgent leaders would not be happy, but counterinsurgency dosn’t require you win the hearts and the minds of the hardliners. It requires you win the hearts and minds of the local population. Let’s not mince words. The insurgents could not operate without such tacit support/turning a blind eye by many sections of the local community (other sections provide more active support). But those tacit supporters are not always necessarily going to be tacit supporters. Therefore, not only must your words help develop trust with the local population, but your actions must too. One way to do this is provide the local population with a greater say over how their affairs are organized instead of top-handed, Bangkok-appointed bureaucrats running the show.

BP’s problem with the Ministry proposal is that it appears to be one of these meaningless symoblic gestures which won’t do much and well if it is Ministry it will still be a Bangkok-appointed peson running the show. There are not enough specifics in the article, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. BP is not opposed to a stepping stone/incremental approach, but just if the step is too small then the reaction may also be small. The reduction in violence or other changes are also likely to be small. If the progress is neglible because the first step is too small, will there be a second step? BP is just very sceptical that a Minister on its own is a substantive step. A Minister + elected governors now that would be….

btw, autonomy is not a pancea for all problems, please see these posts (here, here, and here) on the situation in the Philippines where the violence did not end, although it did drop.