Excerpts from The Nation's front-page editorial yesterday:
We Thais woke up to a new reality. The televised images of bloodstained streets, of an ancient mosque riddled with bullet holes, and of machetes still in the firm grips of dead young militants were so surreal that they took some time to register, but they eventually merged to give us a rude awakening. What happened yesterday (Wednesday) morning may change Thailand forever.
As authorities described one of the bloodiest days in our modern history as a breakthrough in efforts to end the turbulence in the deep South, we pray we are not seeing the beginning of an era of constant fear, mistrust and intolerance among people of different beliefs.
We pray that religious harmony, which has been for so long our nation's character and pride, is not on the verge of being shattered.
Thailand is bracing itself for far-reaching repercussions. Many Muslims would treat those killed at the Krue Se Mosque as martyrs. Many who have hitherto shunned extremism will now come forward and join the jihad against the central authority. It could be sooner rather than later that a new breed of militant Muslims makes its presence felt in a big way.
One wonders if the killings carried out by the security forces at the important mosque "granted the decisiveness was required by the situation" could have been avoided by negotiations or some other approach. But the Thaksin government's hawkish policy and all-or-nothing mindset raised the question of whether the security forces have alternatives at all.
The body count should not be used to measure success in the campaign against violence. The number of dead militants who sang praises to their God during their suicide missions does not tell us how close we are to solving the problem.
Instead, it only shows us how far we have been from reality and points to an unknown future that is indeed worrisome.