Conflict Transformation in the Deep South of Thailand: The Insider Peacebuilders’ Platform

Insider Peacebuilders' Plattform at Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus.

The Platform of Insider Peacebuilders (IPP) brings together Thai-Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Malay-Muslims and people with different political convictions who share a common interest in the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Deep South of Thailand, in the region of Pat(t)ani. The Platform started out as a joint conflict analysis to foster a common understanding of the unrest in the region, which is widely perceived as rather enigmatic. Based on this experience, the participants worked on developing a joint roadmap to settle the conflict peacefully.

Since the creation of an official Track-1 “Peace Dialogue” in February 2013, the project supports this initiative by working towards an inclusive and effective multi-track process. It also aims to establish a kind of safety net for the fragile peace. The work is implemented in close collaboration with a group of academic and civil society organisations in the region. They co-own the process and have established a joint governance structure for this initiative.

Since the end of 2013, the whole process has been overshadowed by a political power struggle in Thailand’s capital Bangkok and the recent military coup. Despite these challenges, all involved actors remain committed to continuing the platform process.

Timeframe

2011 – 2015

Conflict Setting

The conflict in the Deep South of Thailand stems from the colonial and post-colonial heritage of continental South-East Asia. It was strongly influenced by the rivalry between Great Britain and France in trying to win the Kingdom of Siam (the former name of Thailand) as their ally in the region. It affects the three southernmost provinces of Thailand (Pat(t)ani, Narathiwat and Yala) and a few districts of the neighbouring Songkla province, in which primarily Malay-speaking Muslims represent the vast majority of the population. The conflict has seen a series of violent clashes and suppression since the late 18th century, as well as phases of accommodation and compromise.

In 2004, the conflict re-escalated after successive governments had attempted to terminate it with strict law-and-order policies while branding the insurgents “bandits”. Since then, nearly 6,000 people have been killed and more than 10,000 injured or maimed. Now, the conflict between the Thai state and a group of resistance organisations and their sympathisers can best be described as an ethnopolitical conflict concerning the legitimacy of Thai rule in a disputed territory. While the conflict has yet to be acknowledged as an essentially “political conflict”, the creation of an official Track-1 peace dialogue process in February 2013 has opened new channels for conflict transformation, although the process is still very fragile.

Approach

The IPP project emphasises the need for joint reflexion, strategising and exploring new avenues for collaboration in order to make best use of the new opportunities arising from changes of government and shifting environments. During the last couple of years, a multiplicity of activities has been initiated to promote peace, many of them with impressive state budgets. The main focus has been on security- and development-related programmes and, more recently, on issues of transitional justice. The region has also experienced an increasing number of human rights and peacebuilding initiatives. They concentrate mostly on issues such as dialogue and capacity-building programmes, empowering marginalised communities, women and youth, enhancing the outreach and quality of local and alternative media, counselling victims of violence, and developing models of decentralised governance.

Aims & Outcomes

The IPP is the result of several years of work invested by some of the most active organisations and individuals engaged in peacebuilding in the region. Initially, the specific aim was to generate joint learning opportunities, to share experiences, apply analysis and strategy tools from various sources and to work towards a common understanding of how the peacebuilding community could become more effective and complementary. Now, several of the platform members have started new, sometimes joint initiatives to translate their insights into practical projects. Others have reviewed their approaches and have engaged in new programmes. The official Track-1 peace dialogue process begun in 2013 has additionally enhanced the need for a more systematic, multi-track engagement.

Key Actors

The Insider Peacebuilders Platform primarily addresses multipliers from different identity groups living in the Deep South as well as all Thai citizens with a vested interest in the region. Most of the participants are linked to civil society, state agencies, the business sector, academia, the media, religious institutions or political parties. They were invited so as to ensure a sufficient representation of diverse identity groups and political orientations (multi-partiality) in the overall platform. Currently, the platform team is also working to enhance the IPP’s vertical outreach to the official political dialogue (Track 1) and to the local leadership level (Track 3).

Partners

The Platform of Insider Peacebuilders is a joint initiative of several academic institutions working in the field of peace and conflict studies, one civil society organisation, a think tank established by the Thai Parliament and the Berghof Foundation:

  • The Center for the Study of Conflict and Cultural Diversity (CSCD) at the Pattani Campus and the Institute of Peace Studies (IPS) at the Hat Yai campus, both of the Prince of Songkla University (PSU),
  • The Center for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) at the Chulalongkorn University, the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) at the Mahidol University, and the Peace Information Center (PIC) at the Thammasat University,
  • The Office of Peace and Governance of the King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI) in Bangkok, a think tank under the Thai National Assembly.

Since the initiative started in 2011, several other organisations have become closely linked to the IPP. The team is in the process of exploring how to broaden and streamline the way various activities linked to the IPP are governed.

Funders

The initiative has been jointly funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), the Embassies of Finland and Canada in Thailand and UNDP Thailand. Contributions also came from The Asia Foundation and several of the involved universities.

Policy Paper for Inspiring the Official Peace Process

The peace dialogue, which Track-1 actors initiated in February 2013, is still in its very early stages. Due to the lack of trust and confidence between the parties, it remains fragile. In addition, there are very different opinions on both sides of the dialogue on how to move the process ahead and how to envision an agreement which could lay the foundations for a common peaceful future. The IPP recently published a policy paper suggesting at least a common process that could engage all key parties and stakeholders.

Building a Peace Resource Centre (PRC)

Like in many other cases, the official peace dialogue could profit significantly from the state-of-the-art knowledge of other peace processes. To provide this knowledge, the IPP has been planning to establish a Peace Resource Center. This Peace Resource Center would be available for all parties and stakeholders and would provide space for them - and the peacebuilders themselves - to create a safety net for the peace process.

Joint Conflict Analysis to Lay the Foundation for Complementary Peacebuilding

To create a shared understanding of the root causes and ongoing drivers of conflict and to inspire joint learning, IPP participants attended a total of eight workshops and several follow-up working groups between June 2011 and December 2012. The work focused on how to make best use of the tools available for a comprehensive conflict analysis. Apart from learning about the tools as such, one of the key challenges was to explore the extent to which participants could develop a consensus of at least some of the factors addressed. The experience motivated several of the participants to apply these tools in their respective organisations and to integrate their insights into their peacebuilding strategies. It also generated a shared interest in developing new tools for the joint analysis of peace efforts and their impact on the conflict.

  • Insider Peacebuilders Platform (IPP): How Can the Peace Process be Taken Forward. 28 February 2014. Policy Paper. PDF >
  • Mathus Anuvatudom & Norbert Ropers: Peace Processes as Joint Learning Processes of Stakeholders and Insider Peacebuilders. A Case Study on Southern Thailand. 2013. Contribution to the Asia-Pacific Peace Research Association (APPRA) Conference "Engaging Violent Conflicts in Asia-Pacific with Nonviolent Alternatives", Bangkok, 12-14 November 2013. PDF >