Tuesday, January 2, 2007

One Coup Does Not a Terrorist Make

The recent terrorist bombings of the Thai capital were reprehensible, sickening. The same language might well be used to describe the speed at which the Thai government has moved to pin blame for the attacks on supporters of the ousted Prime Minister. From today's New York Times:
Supporters of the government that was ousted in a coup three months ago were responsible for explosions across Bangkok during New Year's Eve celebrations, Gen. Surayud Chulanont, the interim prime minister, said today....

"From the evidence we have gathered, there is a slim chance that it is related to the southern insurgency," General Surayud told reporters. "It is likely related to people who lost their political benefits."
No sooner did the attacks take place than indications were that the government would attempt to pin balme for them on Thaksin supporters (see early commentary by 2Bangkok.com).

To my mind, for a government to use the pretext of such dastardly attacks to score points against a political rival is to in some measure become a co-conspirator in violence, if only after the fact. As I wrote yesterday, this is basically what voters in Spain decided when their government tried to pin the Madrid bombings on ETA on the eve of a national election.

I believe it highly unlikely that the deliberate targeting of civilians and tourists in Bangkok on New Years Eve was anything other than an extension of the ongoing attacks by Southern insurgents into Thai capital. This was what many Bangkok residents feared would occur eventually. As Bonafide wrote yesterday at Metroblogging Bangkok:
In all honesty, I'm not at all shocked... My bets are on the Southern insurgency trying to get their point. Blowing up monks, teachers, children in the 3 provinces hasn't gotten their point across. So, its only natural that the sick bastards move their chaos into the heart of Thailand...

Which reminds when I was having dinner with a few highly ranked police officers 5 months ago, I told them that it was only a matter of time before the bombings took place here in Bangkok. They agreed.
On Jan 1, Bangkok Pundit posted an extraordinary excerpt from a report on ScanAsia website that mentions that police believed they had foiled a planned attack by Southern insurgents on Bangkok a few weeks ago. When I checked out ScanAsia, the article had already been removed:
Police and military intelligence sources said that they had learned during the past month that a plan to bring bombs to explode in Bangkok was in the making when they had checked a home in Banang Satar district in Yala in the south of Thailand. They believed it was part of a plan to place bombs in Bangkok during New Year. A map of Bangkok had been found with many places marked, including Victory Monument, Klong Toey Rama IV, Ramkhamhaeng University, Siam Paragon, Zea Rangsit, Seacon Square and Don Muang Airport being marked.
Also, Bangkok Pundit has since posted excerpts from a Thai-language newspapers Thai Rath and Matichon that suggest similarities between the types of explosives used in the Bangkok bombings and those used in the South of Thailand.

Mainly, I find it extremely implausible that supporters of a political organization that has operated successfully within a democratic political system for many years would, within three months of their ouster, turn to acts of terrorism to achieve political goals. Civil society is a habit, and I do not believe that those who have acquired the habit can easily break free of it. And why would Thaksin supporters think it even helpful to resort to terrorism at a time when the regime that ousted Thaksin has been screwing up so badly? And if terrorism is an act of the desperate, who is truly more desperate at this point -- Thaksin supporters or the junta-backed regime? In recent weeks -- with their gross mismanagement of the financial markets, and little to show by way of progress on constitutional reform, insufficient evidence to prosecute Thaksin on corruption charges, and the deposed PM visiting neighboring countries (like a hawk circling its prey) -- many commentators have sensed a whiff of desperation in the air. And it's not Thaksin who seems to be desperate.

Even though the junta/Thai regime have proven themselves willing to break with the democratic habit, I believe them every bit as unlikely as Thaksin supporters to have had any role in the terrorist attacks (Even the misnomer that is "Thai-style democracy" allows no scope for terrorism).

Baring any compelling evidence to the contrary, Southern insurgents almost certainly bear responsibility for the attacks. Tutored by the global jihadi network, employing techniques honed in Iraq and Afghanistan, funded by Muslim extremists from oil-rich states, such individuals have demonstratively acquired the habit of terrorist violence. Who but such sorry and twisted minds would view Bangkok residents and Western tourists as legitimate targets in their struggle? I am inclined to view such depravity beyond the imagination of either the present Thai regime or supporters of the ousted Prime Minister.

One caveat: some conspiracy theories accord elements within the Thai security forces blame for orchestrating terrorist attacks in the South. I must admit that were there found to be truth to these allegations, the case that "rogue elements" within the CNS/military or "rogue" Thaksin supporters could be behind the attacks becomes much more compelling. (Bangkok Pundit has more to say about the "rogue element" hypothesis.) Rogue security forces aside, I find it implausible that the political situation of post-coup Thailand in Decmeber 2006 created a sufficient incentive to motivate any group within Thai civil society to suddenly decide to "take up" terrorism.

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