Past is past only if Southern Thailand is not complex: Yet it is!
Black eye, blue eye, or, one eye, the issue raised by Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor, the former Inspector General Police of Malaysia, that “past is past,” is misplaced, misguided, and dangerous, in terms of one’s sense of national service,especially in a country like Malaysia where there is a surge of voluntarism to fill up with moral void left by the excesses of Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak.
First of all, is Rahim Noor even aware of the swamp that is Southern Thailand ? One is not referring to Haddyai alone. But Pattani, Songkla and Narathiwat, three of the deepest and most complex provinces in Southern Thailand, where poverty, half baked irridentism, simmering Malay nationalism, and Thai extremist and Pacific Buddhism all seem to co exist in a convoluted stew.
Take Pattani University, for instance. It is a seemingly pure and excellent academic institution. But to avoid the stigma of being seen as a hot bed of radicalism, it had to change its name to Fattoni University.
A mere change of syllable may not seem much to Rahim Noor. But it goes to show that Rahim Noor is out of his depths if he inches any further across Haddyai to be a special envoy of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad on southern Thailand.
The Haddyai Peace Agreement of 1989, may bear Rahim Noor’s signature, invariably, leading some to confuse this as his effort to stabilize the south, but in southern Thailand, Rahim Noor’s reputation is a bane, and not a boon.
First of all, there was the implicit understanding that once the agreement was inked, and the Communist insurgency ended on both sides, Rahim Noor was supposed to leverage on his reputation and elevated status in Malaysia to help Bangkok pacify the remnants of Thai nationalist insurgents such as Pattani United Liberation Organization (Pulo) or Barisan Revolusi National (BRN).
Rahim Noor let Bangkok down, not only in 1989, but between 1989 to 2018. In light of this background, the role of a special envoy to Southern Thailand cannot come at the mere fancy of the Special Branch or the Malaysian Royal Police.
To begin with, Thailand has witnessed the passing of the revered King Bhumipol, a state funeral that took a year to culminate, into his royal cremation, which all Thais, regardless of their political affiliations, took seriously.
Was Rahim Noor, if he was so concerned about southern Thailand, even in the Thai Royal Embassy in Jalan Ampang Kuala Lumpur to register his utmost condolence ? If he didn’t, he is out.
Now, Thailand is governed by Prime Minister Prayudh Cha-On. While on surface he may seem like a strong man, Rahim Noor may conflate his own toughness to manhandle anyone, including former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, as a match to the Thai Prime Minister.
But the Thai Prime Minister Prayudj believes in democratic transition too and has been urging his country to prepare for a strong and peaceful democratic transition by the end of February 2019.
What are Rahim Noor’s democratic, and administrative credentials, other than being called from his long retirement ? Incidentally, a period which also marked Rahim Noor’s own imprisonment for fisting a hooded and innocent man: Anwar Ibrahim.
This was an action, which by the way, was never condoned by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Indeed, a physical act of violence verging on the kind of uncontrolled rage that former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had himself instigated, leading to the killing of the Muslims in Tak Bai in 2005, when bodies of youths were piled up, and crammed into a van, until nearly a hundred died of asphyxiation (source: https: //en. m.wikipedia.org /wiki/Tak_Bai _incident).
Someone without human rights and legal sensibilities should not be running around in Southern Thailand as a special envoy. The culture and the security practices of southern Thailand do not respect a police officer, even at the rank of former Inspector General of Police in Malaysia, to allow Rahim Noor to gain any traction.
The fact of the matter is the horses have long bolted out from the stable. Whether it is 2006, or, 2018, Southern Thailand, until this day, is one of the most mysterious conflicts in the world. Killings and beheadings of all sides are often conducted without any acknowledgement and attribution.
When Tun Dr Mahathir convened the Langkawi Dialogue in 2006 after his retirement to bring all the Thais to an amicable agreement, well before the ink was dry, the insurgents in Thailand, without identifying themselves in any form or way, had denounced the leaders who attended the dialogue. The peace initiative failed on impact.
At 74, Rahim Noor does not have the standing and seniority with the Thais in Southern Thailand. One wonders if he can have the regular face time with Tun Dr Mahathir too, since the latter is now more consumed by issues of national debt.
Be it two years or more, Tun Dr Mahathir’s political clock is already ticking, and he wants all issues to be solved with verve and vigor, to allow a strong transition to Anwar Ibrahim the Prime Minister in Waiting.
Southern Thailand is one of those issues that is out of the reach and depth of Rahim Noor. And two years will not allow Rahim Noor to end the conflict.
A good cop is one who knows when to stay retired when he is out of any ammunition, literally and metaphorically. Rahim Noor has none. He is well passed his prime. If he wasnt, he would have become a pro active citizen to end the kleptocracy in Malaysia over the last decade alone. But there were no records of him endorsing Bersih I to V.
Invariably, a bad cop is one who keeps indulging the regime even when the office of Datuk Seri Najib Razak has become rotten from the core, as was the case with the previous Inspector General Police Khalid Abu Bakar who can’t even bring a single charge against various criminal breaches of trust.
To be sure, Tun Dr Mahathir wants all men, women and souls to serve Malaysia. But it doesn’t mean once a nomination is done, that person must jump into the deep end of the pool without any forethought.
Think for a moment how complex is southern Thailand to begin with. An issue where even the authoritative International Crisis Group based in Brussels called a conflict where “50 per cent of the violent incidents are driven by organized crimes, with another 50 per cent driven by separatist sentiments.” Has Rahim Noor even read this report ?
Indeed, which part does Rahim Noor want to end and serve ? He better have some answers for the Thais soon, because Bangkok does not think he has the metier and the grey matter to wrap his head around one of the world’s most deadly conflicts, where bombs go off without anyone taking responsibility for years on end.
Past is not past, in this sense. The permanent pacification of Southern Thailand is the national interest of the Thai Malaysian relations.
If the Bangkok Treaty of 1909 and the Haddyai Treaty of 1989 cannot lead to a stable region in that part of the world, with sporadic eruption of violence that has now become endemic, Rahim Noor should bow out before he gets Malaysia entrapped in an issue which he has zero expertise.
Diplomacy in southern Thailand is deep and Rahim Noor doesn’t even know he is not well liked at all in those provinces. That alone is an automatic disqualification. More importantly, southern Thailand needs a solution that is comprehensive right down to the tee. It is not mere winning of the hearts and minds of the restive provinces.
Thailand and southern Thailand have many faultlines that are at once economic, cultural, historical, political, indeed, even quasi criminal, as this is the region where human and gun smuggling, and many crimes used to thrive. Rahim Noor should stay out of Southern Thailand when solving the problems require every ounce of Malaysian good will to mend any wounds in the bilateral issue.