Supporting the peace the process

It is in the absence of war that we take peace for granted. This is true for most countries that have the benefit of looking at war-torn regions as an outsider, certainly protected from the clutches of death and destruction.
Unfortunately, this is never the case. No one escapes misery, even though it is one that involves a stranger in another continent, another unrelated statistic in the depressing write-up of daily international news. Spillover effects aside, it is humanity that beckons us to react, to assist, and to never forget that peace has to be earned, and fought for, by everyone, victim or not.


Malaysia, my motherland, is but one of the actors partaking in the peace process. The different races in Malaysia, a diverse lot of ethnic groups and religions, have certainly enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence. Certainly, it is far from perfect, and we are barely at the beginning of any proper dialogue on economic inequity, the merits and perils of positive discrimination of ethnic groups, as well as other concerns regarding democratic freedom. But running parallel to this need of internal dialogue is the need for Malaysians to support the cause for peace through dialogue, not military action in conflict-stricken countries in the Southeast Asian region.

Malaysia has played and continues to play an important role as a facilitator in the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as leader of the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao. In addition, it is also part of the Aceh Monitoring Mission, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the memorandum of understanding between the Indonesian government and Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (the Free Aceh Movement).

Most recently, the focus on conflict in the region has been on the Southern Thailand insurgency. The change in the Thai government through the recent coup –bloodless, but undemocratic nonetheless, has marked a changed era of engagement with the insurgents. This has brought up hope for a possible peace. In the past, deposed Thai Prime Minister had employed a policy of “iron fist, velvet glove” on the conflict-prone provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Characterized by military action, at times clearly excessive, it lacked any resolve for dialogue or engagement with the insurgents. Recent incidents such as the Tak Bai tragedy in late 2004, resulting in the deaths of 85 demonstrators, have led to a large-scale outcry over the Thai government’s conduct in the matter.

Granted, talking alone will not resolve issues of injustice, past repression, hatred, resulting from three decades of violence and economic stagnation in the south. There must also be a readiness for compromise, and understanding from both sides, and most importantly, continuity of the engagement policy. Additionally, there must also be firm action taken against the perpetrators of violence since killings and destruction can never be tolerated under any circumstances. But the government must understand the precarious position of the main leaders of southern Thailand’s Muslim insurgent movements, and their dilemma. Though they themselves are leaning toward an eventual agreement, they are under tremendous pressure to back off, as smaller armed groups threaten to derail the process. Refusing to settle for ‘imperfect peace,’ these groups are also questioning then sincerity of the Thai government, and whether the policy of dialogue will persist after the replacement of the current military rule with the next civilian government. These are certainly pressing issues in the negotiation process, and must be firmly addressed by the Thai government. Consequently, parties external to the process, Malaysians included must press for continued engagement and dialogue. The solution will of course not immediately arise, but conviction for peace has to be permanently etched in everyone’s hearts and minds.

In conclusion, all parties to the conflict negotiating process must never lose sight of initiating dialogue and realize the futility of overt force alone. It is in the absence of dialogue and understanding that we take war for granted; it’s time we took peace seriously.

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