After 20 years of CHT Peace Accord
Peace is still a dream
The status of Bangladesh in 1997 and today is not the same. She has been progressing day by day since the 2nd December of 1997, the day when the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) Peace Accord was signed. This treaty has erased Bangladesh's name from the list of countries which are going through civil war or intra-state conflicts. The international community proclaimed the Accord, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received several international awards for her pro-active effort to end the two decades long bloody battle.
This treaty has brought the massive scale 'insurgency' and 'counter-insurgency' apparently to an end, but the peace is yet to prevail in CHTs. However, media informs us the state apparatus extrajudicial activities and the clashes between the United People's Democratic Front (UPDF) and Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), and the clash between government forces and UPDF members or the clash between the tribal and settlers are not rare to happen.
Before the treaty, the conflict was government forces versus Shanti Bahini of PCJSS, but now it is multi-folds. The hill dwellers get to escape from large-scale conflict, but not get rid of exploitation and oppression yet. Nasir Uddin quotes in his book Life in Peace and Conflict: Indignity and State in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (2017), a tribal who says about the peace accord: "The peace accord has not produced peace, but the only conflict in Pahari life, even within us."
The delay in the implementation of the peace accord in one side is giving the justification to the UPDF's claim and in another side is pushing the PCJSS and the pro-accord hill people to go for tough action. Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, the current leader of PCJSS, has several times warned the government that situation might turn to worse again. The PCJSS every year alleges that government is not sincere in implementing the accord. However, it renewed its urges the government to execute accord fully.
The government has claimed in 2016 that it has implemented 48 out of 72 clauses of the accord while JSS informs that only 26 clauses have been implemented. Whatever the number of the clauses have been implemented should not be the matter of discussion. We need to pay whether the implementation is qualitative or not. By qualitative, I mean, the implementation on the ground, not only in paper works and create the congenial environment of promoting the implementation of other clauses.
In this article, I will focus mainly on the four aspects of the treaty. These are devolution of some administrative power to the three Hill District Council (HDC) and special Regional Council (RC); resolving the land dispute, and withdrawal of army camps. The clauses related to the authority and functions of HDCs state that HDC shall have authority to appoint local police members up to the rank of Sub-Inspector.
The HDC has also been given authority to implement development project, levy local taxes and maintain law and order. The Regional Council is a supra-institution over the all three HDC. RC shall have the authority to supervise, look after and coordinate the functions of all municipalities in all three districts including the HDC.
But the provision of democratically elect the representative for HDC and RC has not seen materialization as of now due to the voter list complexities. The Hill people opposed to the inclusion of Bengali settlers in the voter list. This is the bone of contention that requires curing. The government needs to pursue a viable solution to this problem.
The land survey did not take place yet as earlier there were some legal restrictions. To find a way out the government has recently approved the 'Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The government commented last year that the amendment would speed up the work of the CHTs Land Commission. Thought land-related disputes remain unsettled till day, the latest development could be seen as a positive message from the government side. We hope that government will now pro-actively facilitate the Land Commission's work and bring an accepted solution to the land dispute.
The state-centric security perspective needs to be reconsidered, and human security should be given priority in the CHTs. Due to the obsession with state-centric security, the government might have hesitation to withdraw the temporary military camps and, hence the full implementations of the related clause of the accord are still not carried out.
In the end, it could be said that it is exigent to give the right to the CHTs people to exercise their political rights and free movement like the people of the plain land for making Bangladesh a full-fledged democratic country. The full implementation of the CHTs Peace Accord can give the political, economic, cultural rights to the people of the hills and their empowerment can add value to the democratic and economic progress of the country. Peace in CHTs intricately related to the peace of whole Bangladesh.
However, the full implementation is not solely the responsibility of the government or the parties in power. Nothing can stop us to hope that the current government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will reinvigorate its promise and increase the pace of the implementation process. With the government's sincerity what is required is that the cooperative mind of the opposite political parties and the consent of the common people and the constructive role of the media.
It is thought that the vote bank politics hinders the full implementation of the agreement. The experience shows that when Awami League was not in power little progress happen in implementing the Accord.
To not given a chance to repeat the same, the government can take the initiative to make it legally binding that whoever comes to power in future have to sincere in the implementation of the Accord.
The Bengali people from the plain land need to fell the suffering of their fellow countrymen who live in CHTs and should support the full implementation of the historic agreement. The media can play an important role to make a congenial atmosphere in the mind of the common people through their objective and constructive approaches. I hope in next year the 2nd December will not be marred by the agitation by the PCJSS rather the celebration will be for full implementation of the peace accord.
Sariful Islam is pursuing MPhil/PhD in International Relations at the South Asian University, New Delhi