The Thai Islamists refused to negotiate with the government.

Just as well, the insurgency is somewhat leaderless. Diplomacy with fragmented groups of non-state actors has rarely been effective at creating ceasefires and peace treaties.

I imagine the Thai government attempted a disaggregation strategy by wooing moderates and reluctant fighters with bribes and diplomacy. The Thai Islamist insurgency is a fragmented networked insurgency that only agrees on very broad goals while having little formal organization. They are vulnerable to major wedge issues – like how a post-independence government will be organized.

So the rebels have to preserve an element of unity. If they negotiate, some will cooperate with the government and some will continue fighting. So the insurgents responded that they will fight at least 3 more years before negotiating.

“At this point, there is no plan to surface or change our current strategy. We will continue to operate from our cells,” said a militant leader quoted by Human Rights Watch in a new report. “Violence, like what you see today, will continue for another three years.”

“The liberation of our land and our people is the only goal,” said the leader, cited by the pseudonym Loh in the report. “We have learned from the past that negotiations with Thai authorities would weaken our movement by making our members subject to compromise, co-optation, and bribery.”

Islamist insurgencies are adapting to disaggregation strategies like the ones that went into effect in Iraq and Afghanistan. Better to ignore diplomacy altogether.

Governments have a problem if they believe diplomacy leads to peace. Peace still requires multilateral concensus to stop fighting. This growing less probable with greater number of combatants. Network insurgencies are very diverse and unlikely to all agree to a ceasefire at the same time.

In the Philippines, the Islamist insurgencies, like Abu Sayyaf and MILF, played the Filipino government for suckers. A political front group negotiates with the government on behalf of MILF, they sign a ceasefire agreement and Filipino troops withdraw, then “rogue” elements splinter off from the main insurgent groups and continue fighting.

This is like a “Negotiate and Splinter” tactic that renders diplomacy ineffective at restoring peace. This is why more clever governments, like the US and Thailand, try to use diplomacy to splinter the insurgent movements and turn them against each other. It’s a bit more machiavellian, but it probably leads to peace much faster.

The Thai government will continue to contact individual Muslim leaders in the South and separate them from the insurgency.

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