Published:  12:21 AM, 11 March 2019

Political developments in Thailand and security challenges

Political developments in Thailand and security challenges

Thailand is currently entering into an interesting and exciting phase as its elections are scheduled on March 24. Exciting, because a top court in Thailand has, in a landmark verdict, dissolved an opposition party that had earlier nominated the King's sister, Ubolratana (67) as a candidate.

This is seen as a major blow to the Thai Raksa Chart Party which enjoys complete support of former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in exile, who was deposed in 2006. In other words, now the upcoming elections will see a prominent role by the country's armed forces which are virtually running the country with an iron hand. Whatever the electoral outcome emerges, Thailand has to address its critical security concerns by reining in the ugly heads of Islamic terrorism currently threatening peace in Southern Thailand.

It needs to be underlined that several Islamic radical groups are very active with Saudi Arabia sponsored Wahabism trying to influence the Southern parts of Thailand with intermittent cases of terror linked violence at places like Patani and Yala which has traces of Islamic radicalism suspected to be unleashed by Malaysian Islamic hard liners .

It is also viewed that such forces are inspired by Islamic hate preacher, Zakir Naik . The radicalized elements are now openly talking about a global khilafat and this is perhaps due to aggressive propaganda launched by Naik.

Significantly, Majlis Syura Patani or Patani Consultative Council, Mara Patani are very proactive in their activities. Thus had started receiving funding from 2005 and is a conglomerate of 5 groups which continues to receive heavy funding from different sources emanating from Saudi Arabia.  Its growth has been phenomenal and the forthcoming election campaigning cannot afford to ignore this development.

Also, Isnilon Hapilon , who was heading the Philippines chapter of Islamic State undertook an extensive tour of Southern Thailand a couple of years ago and helped raise significant number of IS cadres , sympathetic towards the IS cause and further radicalization of Muslims espousing IS aims and objectives most important being recruitment to the fighter cadres . However, it is still unclear as to how many of the cadres responded to join the fighters.

There has also not been any visible reports of any IS cadres returning to Southern Thailand after being in Syria for several years. Meanwhile, International Islamic Relief Organisation (IIRO) has come to notice as the principal donor outfit doling out heavy funding for the Islamic cause in the name of religion in the Southern tracts of Thailand bordering Malaysia.

It has also registered a growth in the last few years which does not seem to be a healthy trend. Another noticeable feature is the mushrooming of a large number of madrasas and Sunni mosques in the region, thus getting a legitimate foothold to propagate and contribute in the growth of Islamic extremism.

Further, in the Satun province of Southern Thailand, an organization called Darul Ma 'Areef has surfaced and is completely under the influence of Wahabism and Salafism.

Also , in the same proximity , Yala Islamic College with around 2,000 students are known to be receiving education on what is perceived to be Islamic fundamentalism is funded by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia adding more extremist muscle power to Islamic forces . In the meantime, Tabligi Jamaat elements from Pakistan are also thought to be frequenting this place in furthering of their undesirable activities.

In light of the above, it becomes imperative on part of the Thai authorities to exercise abundant caution in reining in the fundamentalist elements lest they exploit the election canvassing and strengthen their structure and activities. A discreet watch also needs to be kept to preempt any kind of funding from the Middle East which will add to the Islamic activities especially in the South of Thailand.

The writer is a Delhi based security analyst who remained posted in Thailand for a long time. Views expressed are personal

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