The three southernmost provinces of Thailand, near the Malaysian border, have been battered by an insurgency dating, in its current iteration, to 2001. More than 6,500 people have died as the insurgents' actions have become increasingly brutal: setting off bombs near hospitals, beheading victims, and murdering families and children. Since August 2016, the Thai insurgents also have apparently begun trying to strike with bombing attacks nationwide, threatening a large-scale civil conflict in the kingdom. Making matters worse, a risk exists that the insurgency will be infiltrated by foreign militants, particularly from the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
As this Discussion Paper by Joshua Kurlantzick shows, successive Thai governments have compounded the problem in the south. The Thai military has used brutal tactics, further alienating many southerners. These tactics have not only helped fuel the insurgency, but they have also fostered a mindset of impunity within the entire culture of the Royal Thai Army. Units from the south have subsequently deployed in Bangkok and other parts of the country where their members have committed abuses. Torture and arbitrary detention, practiced in the south for more than a decade, have become common strategies in dealing with antigovernment protestors nationwide. Thai generals who played a major part in developing the southern policy have risen to top command posts and were leaders of the 2014 coup.