As regular readers well know, PPT has little time with academic-for-hire Panitan Wattanayagorn. In this Wikileaks cable dated 6 January 2006and referring to a meeting on 28 December 2005, the U.S. Embassy details discussions with Panitan on events in the south under the Thaksin Shinawatra administration.
The cable introduces Panitan as “a well-regarded academic.” We are not sure who held Panitan in high regard at this time. For a start, his academic work was (and is) thin, so he has little of the usual credibility that comes with being an academic. Perhaps it was only in “the military and the palace,” with whom the cable says Panitan has “close ties to.”
The cable states that a coterie of political counselors and political officers from the Embassy met with Chulalongkorn University’s Panitan “to discuss the South.”
Panitan, who is described as “a longtime Embassy contact” is also said to be an “adviser to both the military and the palace.” Moreover, he is introduced as having landed a “a visiting fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies in Washington,” usually reserved for those considered somehow “influential” in Thailand and/or with whom the U.S. government wants to curry favor.
Panitan began by criticizing the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) set up by Thaksin Shinawatra and chaired by Anand Panyarachun. He reckoned that “its members remain overly fixated on a ‘utopian’ solution, and need to develop alternatives grounded in the ‘reality’ of the South.”
Of the Thaksin government, it was said to be “bedeviled by overly intense and erratic attention from the leadership in Bangkok. Efforts by the PM and his top advisers to micro-manage government operations in the South lead to new, big overarching plans to solve the violence but there is rarely any follow-through.” The problem seemed to be not with the government, although it was undoubtedly “erratic,” but with the fact that Panitan’s buddies in the military didn’t trust the government.
Of course, Panitan big-noted the then military boss (and future coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin for political acumen. That’s not something usually associated with the rather dull-witted Sonthi.
Much of the strategic and tactical stuff that Panitan advocates is all water under the bridge now, but it is interesting to see a junior “academic” being so knowledgeable (or at least claiming to be) about military operations. One point he makes is revealing:
Panitan believes that the military also needs to undertake more aggressive jungle operations against the separatists, but such operations require more trust between officers and enlisted personnel. Many junior officers do not have the experience yet to inspire their men to take the needed tactical risks.
Panitan also commented on the “suspicion and lack of trust between the army and police on the ground.” Interestingly, while many had criticized Thaksin’s decision to “give the police the lead role in the South,” he “admitted that local police are more effective than sometimes given credit for…”.
The Embassy’s final comment is that “Panitan is one of our most thoughtful and well-connected interlocutors on the South. That said, his influence lies with the army and palace–two institutions which do not always see eye-to-eye with Thaksin’s southern policy.” The links between Panitan and the U.S. Embassy deserve more scrutiny.