Thai Insurgents Threaten Regional Peace and Stability
By: Jeff Bates
Photo credit: 2016. Noodle shop bomb kills 1, wounds 18 in restive Thai south.
Based on recent events, it appears that civil unrest in southern Thailand will likely continue in the foreseeable future. The Muslim minority in the south want greater autonomy and don’t want to be pestered by the majority Buddhist Thai government. As Muslim insurgents have shown since the early 2000’s, they are prepared to attack governmental troops and civilians to achieve this objective. Though levels of violence have significantly gone down in recent years, the insurgency is still operative – as evidenced by the July and August attacks this year. Additionally, the sectarian climate in the area is brewing up for jihad despite the declining violence. This could be because of Islamic extremist propaganda seen on the internet or it could be coming from jihadis crossing borders into Thailand from Malaysia.
If the Thai government does not improve its human rights for the Muslims, then the insurgency is likely to continue until the Muslims feel at peace with the government. A full-out jihadi insurgency would significantly affect the regional stability of south east Asia. Other militants from nearby countries in the region would likely move into the southern territory to help their fellow Muslims fight against the Thai military. This would increase tensions between Thailand and its neighbors. In order to achieve peace, Thailand must increasingly recognize the Muslim population’s concerns and allow them greater autonomy.
Thailand may not ring a bell when it comes to states that deal with insurgencies, but recently, that is exactly what is happening in the southern provinces of this protruded State. The majority of Thais are Buddhists and live up in the northern part of the country. However, in the south, bordering Malaysia, the provinces are predominantly Muslim.
The insurgents view the threats of discrimination from the Thai government as targeting their Muslim minority. Thailand’s human rights records have been improving over the years, but they are still not perfect. A law recently passed that forced universities to hand over information about Muslim students. However, this lasted only two weeks and then was acquitted due to the outrage by the minority Muslims feeling singled out (Phaicharoen, Nontarat; Ahmad, Mariyam. 2019). The Thai government claimed officials simply wanted intelligence on insurgent activities.
In July, Abdulloh Esormusor, a suspected insurgent, was reported knocked unconscious by the authorities and sent to a prison notorious for corruption and torture. Later in July, the Thai government confirmed that four Muslim insurgents were killed when they attacked a Thai military outpost, a claim that Thailand originally denied (Khidhir, Sheith. 2019). Thus, tensions and trust between the insurgents and Bangkok remain strained.
Recently, a Thai student from the southern provinces of Thailand was arrested for supporting ISIS in Egypt and for calling for the fall of the Egyptian President. Additionally, on the student’s phone, propaganda was found supporting ISIS. Despite this, Thai officials maintain that Thailand has no links to ISIS. However, experts agree that there is a possibility that the atmosphere is right for a jihadist movement in southern Thailand. A report released in November 2017 by the International Crisis Group, (Jihadism in Southern Thailand) said, “A Sunni minority that constitutes a majority in the conflict zone; a Muslim insurgency with a narrative of dispossession at the hands of non-Muslim colonisers; and a protracted conflict with frequent repression and violence by Thai authorities [makes a jihad in southern Thailand likely]” (Khidhir, Sheith. 2019).
Even though human rights are improving in the country, Bangkok still needs to increase recognition of the Muslims and grant more autonomy to them for stability to be achieved. Perhaps with the right push, the insurgents may launch a jihadist movement against the Thai government as well as against the majority Buddhists. If this were to happen, we could see a similar Islamic insurgency as seen in the Middle East.
Khidhir, Sheith. 2019. Jihad in Thailand’s deep south? Accessed October 19, 2019 from
Phaicharoen, Nontarat; Ahmad, Mariyam. 2019. Thai Police Cancel Order for Universities to Produce Data on Muslim Students. Benar News. Accessed October 19, 2019 from
2016. Noodle shop bomb kills 1, wounds 18 in restive Thai south. The Straight Times. Accessed October 23, 2019 from https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/noodle-shop-bomb-kills-1-wounds-18-in-restive-thai-south