11 July 2024

One question that has arisen almost right after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was appointed Malaysia’s prime minister last week is what role he wants Kuala Lumpur to play in helping resolve the decades-long conflict in southern Thailand.  

To get a glimpse of what he thinks – or what he used to think – about Malaysia’s involvement in the peace process initiated by the Thai government, it’s worth revisiting an interview I had with him in 2014.  Anwar was at that time a staunch critic of the Najib government which he believed should have done more to help end the armed conflict in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand.

“I have always called for rapprochement, dialogue between the two parties with the involvement of Bangkok directly,” he said in answer to a question on the role of Malaysia as a facilitator of the peace dialogue between representatives of the Prayut government and the Muslim insurgent groups.

However, Anwar added that Kuala Lumpur should have done more.

Malaysia must be more aggressive in sending out a clear message that we want a peaceful resolution. There seems to be contradictory and conflicting messages from Malaysia,” he said.

Anwar said he had contact with many groups in provinces on the Thai border, especially Pattani.  

I know many of the people in Pattani and various groups on the border. A number of times I mentioned to my colleagues in Bangkok the issues of poverty and marginalization,” he said.  

He was quick to add that the conflict must be resolved through peaceful means.  “We should not compromise on the need for a peaceful resolution.  They are all Thais and violence is not the answer,” he said.

Anwar noted that violence in southern Thailand should not be blamed on Thai military operations alone.

I am not saying the problems are perpetrated by the Thais or because of excesses by the military in the past. But sometimes they are criminal acts using the façade of insurgency by the Pattani movement,” he said.

Anwar then called on the Malaysian government to lend full support to Thailand’s efforts to resolve the conflict through peaceful means.

I must say that the Bangkok’s initiative must be supported clearly and aggressively by the Malaysian government. The Malaysian government must also utilize people that are credible. They cannot have people that even some people in Pattani would question.   They must have people who are credible and committed to a peaceful resolution,” he said.

Anwar also urged the insurgent groups to be prepared to surrender arms. “And there must be concession in terms of their right, their language, culture and religion which I believe are clearly defined in the Thai constitution and supported by most who believe in democracy and freedom in Thailand,” he said.

What I want to say is that Malaysia must be more aggressive in supporting the Thai initiative,” he added.

When asked to be more specific, Anwar said: “Those groups that we have some influence in we can help convey their legitimate demands to our friends in Thailand. But we must also be firm in suggesting to them that in no way will we condone armed insurrection or violence.

By Thepchai Yong