Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan and Thailand: nations on the brink

Comparisons are inevitable. Encouraged by the success of the People's Power Party (PPP) at the polls, the exiled former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin, had been engaged in a public relations campaign: "I will return" he declared. His opponents were issuing rebuttals, threatening his arrest upon return. Observers had begun to ask: will it be adoring crowds or handcuffs that greet Thaksin if he steps off a plane from Hong Kong?

That's when the news from Pakistan broke. Only weeks after returning home from exile, former Pakistani president Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is assassinated.

For Thais, it was a rude awakening: a reminder that the road back to democracy can be treacherous; a reminder that Thailand is no stranger to violent extremism. The frequency of violence within the Southern most provinces of Thailand in recent years may well have exceeded that within Pakistan.

Moreover, Thais remember New Year's Eve when Bangkok got bombed. They know that acts of terrorism leave not only detestation, but unanswered questions. Any uncertainty as to who is to blame for such deeds can be exploited for political gain. It remains a troubling fact that the Thai junta rushed to pin blame for the bombing of Bangkok on supporters of Thaksin. Thais have yet to see a shred of evidence that would justify the accusation.

In Pakistan today, the recriminations have only just begun.

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