I observe with amusement the current tiff between Malaysia and Thailand over the possible extradition of a suspected Muslim militant wanted by the Thai authorities for his alleged involvement in the on-going armed uprising in southern Thailand.
It seems quite obvious that both countries have been trying to score points on the issue. Namely, Thailand's allegation that Muslim militants are operating from or being trained in Malaysia and Malaysia's denial of such 'unsubstantiated' allegations from its northern neighbour.
I think its about time that both governments came clean on the issue. The Thais need to admit that they have made mistakes in dealing with the unrest in the south and clearly need a different approach to deal with the insurgency that is primarily predicated on the perceived lack of economic opportunities and social depravation that Muslims allegedly experience in the southern Thai provinces.
Malaysia, on the other hand, should separate the problem from her racial and religious solidarity with the Muslim minority there. While its only natural to sympathise with the plight of the Muslim minority given their unfortunate circumstances, we should be not be condoning - either directly or indirectly - acts of violence being perpetrated by Islamic militants in southern Thailand.
Silence is not an option either as it sends the wrong message to the Thai government and it is certainly not reflective of a good neighbourhood policy. It begets the question as to why Malaysia consistently adopts a different stand for different situations - the insurgency in Aceh in Indonesia and the Muslim insurgencies in southern Thailand and Mindanao, southern Philippines.
The only explanation that comes to my mind is some sort of misguided solidarity with the government in Indonesia and the rebels in southern Thailand and the Philippines. Such a narrow-minded and prejudiced view in the conduct of foreign relations can only cause unnecessary friction with our neighbours.
As I recall, our government made sufficient noises when Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines commented on the Anwar Ibrahim episode. Would our government be prepared to accept criticisms from our neighbours if they took a sympathetic position to the perceived discrimination that is suffered by minorities in this country?
Our government should take a firm stand and reaffirm our position that we are totally opposed to both Muslim and non-Muslim insurgencies in our neighbouring countries wherein such acts have no basis in international law and are calculated to overthrow or destabilise legitimate and democratically-elected governments in these countries.
We should be willing to share information and intelligence, not begrudgingly, but in an open and helpful manner. After all, there are bilateral and multilateral frameworks within which both Malaysia and Thailand can closely cooperate in dealing with acts of terrorism and violence, insurgencies or rebellions wherever perpetrated.
However, I agree that foreign relations should not be conducted via the media. If the Thais take the view that the alleged militant is a Thai national or one with dual nationality (which is not permitted in Malaysia) then they should use the appropriate channels to request for information and extradition as purportedly provided for in the 1911 Treaty between the Kingdom of Siam and His Britannic Majesty's Government then.
If the suspect is a Malaysian, our government should facilitate the extradition because the alleged crimes were committed in Thailand and the alleged acts of armed insurgency and violence are crimes in Malaysia as well. This course of action can be taken provided that the 1911 Treaty is applicable to us.
From my reading of Article 169 of the Federal Constitution, the said Treaty is binding on us unless the Malaysian government has denounced the Treaty under international law. A treaty does not become non-binding just because we think that it is obsolete due to the passage of time.
If Malaysia does want to be bound by the 1911 Treaty, then we should act in accordance with international law and denounce the said Treaty and inform the other signatory accordingly. However, such an action will be perceived by Thailand as a deliberate attempt to prevent the extradition of a suspected criminal for reasons of racial and religious consanguinity.
I would also advise our politicians not to advocate a so-called autonomy status for Muslim minorities in neighbouring countries as this could come back to haunt them given that Malaysia itself has a sizeable non-Muslim minority that could argue a case for autonomy in certain parts of this country given their perceived sense discrimination and erosion of their fundamental rights.
Such a decision lies with the countries concerned themselves and certainly not with outsiders. Autonomy presupposes a legitimate right to self-determination but for reasons of state self- determination is not possible.
These reasons of state are namely to prevent fragmentation of a country, instability and the basic non-viability of the proposed autonomous region as a state with all the attributes of statehood. International treaties also do not permit the re-drawing of borders.
Therefore, some of our politicians should avoid using this term before they get themselves into a quagmire of mutual distrust and animosity with our neighbours for advocating such dangerous ideas. I'm certain that our government would not appreciate it if both China and India advocated a protecting power function in respect of the non-Muslim minorities in this country under the pretext of autonomy for them.