Call it monumental, historic or a big leap. The peace talks deal with the BRN has set many pulses racing about the prospect of our brothers and sisters in the far South living peacefully with everyone else.
Hope drives us from within. So, when news broke that a consensus has been built around the talks agreement in Kuala Lumpur, many of us assumed it might be the first step toward a ceasefire leading to permanent stability in the peace-starved region.
The talks deal we have entered into with rebel group Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) is the biggest step we have taken toward peace to date with a group we believe could help douse the inferno of violence that has consumed us economically, politically and in terms of human lives.
Despite the almost daily, indiscriminate attacks in the far South, no one can or should live with such violence. Judging from press reports and Nida polling, public opinion backs the talks effort.
For nine harrowing years, we have been on the receiving end of the separatist rebels and so some of us would be expected to jump up and down in euphoria at the mention of the talks agreement being brokered on Feb 28.
There is no telling if the older ranks of the BRN can order the younger militants on the ground to stop shooting or planting bombs.
However, finding a group of people with whom to talk is nowhere near as difficult as the question of what we might have to trade with the rebels in return for their agreeing to lay down weapons.
National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut, who signed the dialogue agreement with the BRN, conceded the idea of a Maha Nakhon Pattani, or Pattani Metropolis, was being mulled over for discussion as a form of limited self-rule for the troubled South.
We know Lt Gen Paradorn won't go into the meeting with the BRN in Langkawi on March 28 with an empty briefcase. An educated guess tells us the Pattani administration proposal will be right up there on the top of the agenda.
The issue will be difficult to discuss. Secession or total autonomy is out of the question, leaving us with the option of self-rule, perhaps? But the sheer vastness of the term boggles the mind.
Self-rule comes in various shapes, sizes and shades of political colours. Narrowing down the word and arriving at a definition to satisfy both the government and the rebels without breaching the constitution, which holds the country as indivisible, will be a tough nut to crack.
But is there, conceivably, a middle ground in terms of the definition between self-determination and, say, the much-touted Pattani Metropolis trumpeted in the past?
The Pattani Metropolis has proven to be a delicate issue even for former premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh who is the brains behind the Metropolis blueprint.
The public appears to have mixed feelings about the metropolis proposal. Gen Chavalit has now distanced himself from the idea and in fact denies putting it forward.
He insisted he only subtly suggested that Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat become a people-centred governing entity.
The details of the metropolis proposal were never made public. All we were allowed to know was that it borrowed the administrative form of Bangkok with an elected governor and a fair degree of self-rule.
However, in substance, the Bangkok governor is subject to dismissal by the interior minister.
Such intervention would have made metropolis-style self-rule answerable to the government, and so probably unacceptable to the anti-Bangkok mindset in the far South.
So, the Bangkok administration model, despite being furthest removed from interference by the government, will not cut it. But to leave the far South with too vague an administrative or political connection to Bangkok could endanger the country's territorial sovereignty.
I hope that we are talking to the right people to get the peace process moving. But honestly I don't envy Lt Gen Paradorn's job.
Kamolwat Praprutitum is an Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.
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- Writer: Kamolwat Praprutitum