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Thailand on the brink again

Suddenly there is talk of more violent unrest in Bangkok. People who should know better are, if not openly encouraging, then at least seeking to justify, a military coup.

They are not wild hotheads or closet fascists, but a clique of affluent, educated businessmen, journalists, even opposition parliamentarians.

People like the Democrat Party leaders Abhisit Vejjajiva, Suthep Thaugsuban and Korn Chatikavannij, who recently encouraged MPs to violently break up parliament.

They have boasted, quite openly and forcefully, that in order to get their way they will take the fight into the streets.

Along with their proxy gang of rent-a-mob goons, the sickly misnamed People’s Alliance for Democracy and its elitist backers, they will stop at nothing to bring down the current duly-elected government.

As Voranai Vanijaka, no fan of this government, lamented in the Bangkok Post, they show “a willingness to discard the democratic process and use thug-like intimidation and violence”.

It is shameful and beneath contempt, and causes so much anger to well up that a digression is needed in order to stay calm.

So let me detour to Washington, where one of my perks as bureau chief for the Singapore Straits Times was to indulge in the daily lunches my secretary Maria arranged for me in the capital’s best restaurants.

Armed with the long list of names I gave her, she would begin calling them and once they’d agreed on a date, she would book a table at the Old Ebbitt Grill, the Tabard Inn, the Monocle or the Palm.

My job was onerous and stressful and I worked my socks off from seven in the morning till eight or nine in the evening. For more than three years, there was never a day I did not go into the office.

So I viewed my lavish expense-account lunches as just compensation and they became an essential quotidian – and a highly enjoyable one, too.

Some of the people I dined with were very clued in, especially those from the White House or the departments of State or Defence, although they did not always, of course, relay much of their information.

Others thankfully did. And then there was a third bunch who, though they believed they’d got all the latest dope and would talk up a storm, rarely emitted any real fresh tidings.

However, these folks usually made up for it with their gay volubility and extravagantly mischievous gossip. Husain Haqqani fell into this category.

Having first met him a decade earlier in Singapore, it was a joy to rekindle our friendship and exchange scuttlebutt, which we did at the best Asian eateries, like Kopi Tiam, Thai Kingdom and the Bombay Club.

A former journalist from Pakistan, Husain was by then a professor of International Relations at Boston University and a visiting scholar at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He was close to the Bhutto clan, particularly the late PM Benazir, and so his opinion of her nemesis, the country’s then dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, veered between contempt and ridicule.

They are the same feelings we should have towards those now trying usurp democracy in Thailand and place another crackpot general in power.

Someone like Musharraf, who, later forced into exile over his alleged role in Benazir’s murder, was an unmitigated disaster, as indeed are all military dictators, whether Pakistani, Burmese, Indonesian, Filipino or Thai.

Husain went on to become Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington; but then last November, he was sacked after being accused of instigating a plea for US intervention to prevent another military coup in Pakistan.

He denies this, but at the same time says that whoever was responsible, did no wrong. He is right. Any action to prevent a military takeover is right.

And those now implicitly suggesting that another coup would be a good idea in Thailand need to back off pronto and start to remember an old, but apt adage.

Be careful what you wish for, it may be granted.

Contact our regional insider Roger Mittion at rogermitton@gmail.com

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