Wednesday, 1 February, 2023
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CHT Peace Accord Ensures Peace, Stability and Economic Growth

Tilottama Rani Charulata

CHT Peace Accord Ensures Peace, Stability and Economic Growth

December 02 was the 25th anniversary of CHT peace accord. The day is a special day in the history of Bangladesh. On December 2, 1997, the treaty was signed putting an end to the protracted armed insurgency in Chattogram Hill Tracts (CHT). It was possible due to the visionary and prudent leadership and political wisdom of then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. I had the rare privilege of being present at this historic moment. The signing of the agreement was widely covered by the world media at that time. Various governments and human rights organisations also congratulated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the main leaders of the Parbatya Chattogram Jana Samhati Samiti Santu Larma for signing the agreement. As a result of the signing of this agreement, an opportunity has been created to resolve the disputes, conflicts and clashes that had been going on for more than two decades in the region.

The efforts to establish peace in the region by deploying military forces were not so easy. The conflict started following the settlement of settlers from plain land in a region where ethnic people have been living and farming for years. The resettlement had resulted in widespread resentment and insecurity among the small ethnic groups. Bloodshed broke out between natives and settlers over various reasons, including possession of property. Consequently, self-defence organisations were formed among the local hill tribes, who later got involved in armed conflict, bloodshed and casualties. Jana Samhati Samiti had long been fighting with the local hill youth in the deep forests to realise their rights through armed means. Several international groups continued to encourage such organisations to disrupt peace and order within the country. This was going to create long-term danger for Bangladesh. Political parties, socio-cultural and human rights organisations and people who believe in the ideals of independence and liberation war had differed in their views and paths with the previous governments in realising the fact that peace can never be established by using military force to appease the anger of the hill communities or to destroy the rights of the hill communities. All the political parties and people in favour of independence and liberation war were demanding the resolution of the problem through discussion with the people agitating for the establishment of peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. However, no effective and sincere effort was made except some public initiatives in the past. As a result, it was almost impossible for people to live or move freely in the three districts of the region. Such unsettled situation in a large part of Bangladesh has not only hindered the overall development and progress, but the chances of the hill-dwelling people to overcome their socio-economic, political and ethnic backwardness have also been far-fetched. In Bangabandhu’s six points, the basic position of the state towards regional autonomy and ethnic rights was clear. Therefore, the ethnic and linguistic-cultural rights of the hill communities of the CHT are included in the Constitution of Bangladesh. After Sheikh Hasina had won the election in 1996 and come to power, she took initiative to solve CHT problems. After several rounds of discussion, both sides agreed to a peace treaty to resolve the issue in a 72-point declaration. On December 2, 1997, an agreement was officially signed between the government and the Jana Samhati Samiti.

The three hill basins of Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban cover one-tenth of the total area of ​​natural beauty in Bangladesh. Here, the tribal people have been living side by side with the Bengali people for a long time, maintaining the identity of their language, culture, religion and tradition. The mountainous region, rich in natural resources, was in a backward and underdeveloped state for a long time before independence.

After achieving the independence through the great Liberation War in 1971, under the leadership of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Chittagong Hill Tract region was joining the development process by adopting various practical programs. But after the killing of Bangabandhu along with his relatives by the anti-liberation war gangs on the night of August 15, 1975, the multi-faceted development plan and development progress of the region was hindered. This deadlock in development lasted for almost two decades due to the bloody conflict in the CHT.

Then and current Prime Minister of Bangladesh took bold initiatives to establish peace in the hilly areas and improve the fortunes of the people there. In October 1996, an 11-member National Committee for Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs was formed under the leadership of ruling-party Chief Whip Abul Hasanat Abdullah. In December of the same year, the first meeting was held between the government and Jana Samhati Samiti at the Circuit House in Khagrachhari. Both sides reached a consensus to find the best possible solution to meet the just demands of the tribal people within a centralised system under the constitution while keeping the sovereignty and integrity of Bangladesh intact. Due to the visionary leadership and efforts of the Prime Minister, the final compromise was established in the seventh meeting held between the National Committee and Jana Samhati Samiti.

On February 10, 1998, in a colourful ceremony at Khagrachhari Stadium, the first batch of Shanti Bahini under the leadership of Santu Larma surrendered their arms to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The arms surrender program was four phased. At last, the Peace Corps surrendered its arms. I still remember the program. According to the terms of the agreement, on May 6, 1998, the amendment to the Local Government Council Act and the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council Act were passed by National Parliament.

On July 15, 1998, the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs was established through a gazette notification. Kalparanjan Chakma was appointed Minister and Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma (Santhu Larma) was appointed Regional Council Chairman (status of State Minister). Later three chairmen were appointed in the three hill district councils. Hill District Councils have been given the responsibility for the development of hill area. This has created an opportunity to accept and implement all the programs of overall development, multifaceted welfare and balanced development of the hilly areas.

The political, social, cultural and economic rights and socio-economic development of all the citizens of the region have been accelerated. Along with the folk and traditional culture there, mainstream cultural practices are equally prevalent. Bengali New Year is celebrated along with Baisabi festival in grand ceremony. Similarly, Eid festival and Durga Puja are celebrated with great joy. These new conditions of cultural evolution are developing our hill culture in different ways. Unity in diversity - how wonderful!

Although there are some doubts among some of the hill dwellers about the Hill Peace Agreement and its implementation, it is undeniable that due to this agreement, the tribal people of Chittagong Hill Tracts have got an environment to keep their political, social, economic, cultural rights and ethnic identity intact under the constitution of Bangladesh, as well as to be integrated with the mainstream. The goal is to ‘no conflict and distance’ between Bengalis and small ethnic groups, create a peaceful environment through mutual harmony, trust and neighbourly behaviour and establish equal status and rights for all as citizens of Bangladesh. It is our expectation that to attain this goal, the government and CHT people must be committed to proper implementation of the peace agreement and to uphold the Constitution.

 

The writer is an independent researcher based in Canada