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Analysis: Asian Military Drift

Council on Foreign Relations

February 5, 2007
Prepared by: Carin Zissis

Four months after promising power would be “returned to the people,” leaders of a military coup in Thailand remain in charge, with half the country under martial law. Talk of a coup is also in the air in Bangladesh, amid a political crisis (The Economist). In Sri Lanka, the revival of the country’s lengthy civil war has raised the prominence of military voices on its political scene.

Fledgling democracies in South and Southeast Asia appear to be swinging back toward militarism. The events leading up to the changes differ: While former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra faced widespread protests and allegations of corruption before the bloodless coup, Dhaka has become a violent battleground for a feud between political parties whose leaders—both former prime ministers—despise one another. However, Thailand and Bangladesh share the problem of having to deal with rising extremism within their borders. As this new Backgrounder explains, in Thailand, the military junta faces attacks by insurgents in its southern Muslim provinces that have caused nearly two thousand deaths in the past three years. The new government blamed Thaksin’s confrontational approach to the separatist movement. But the junta has made little headway in stopping the violence and the insurgents “ have shown absolutely no interest in negotiations or in the possibilities accorded by the change in government,” writes Zachary Abuza, a Southeast terrorism expert at Simmons College in Boston, on Counterterrorism Blog.

In Bangladesh, Islamic militant extremists have gained a foothold in the vacuum left by political chaos, explains Sumit Ganguly in a report for the United States Institute of Peace. On the rise is the number of Islamist political parties with links to Bangladeshi militant groups, including one linked to synchronized nationwide bombings in 2005.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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