Prospect of Peace in Chittagong Hill Tracts: Dream Versus Reality

tofayel ahmed

Brig Gen Md Tofayel Ahmed, psc:

Background Due to geographical and historical homogeneity, Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) had always been integral part of Bangladesh. However, for challenging lifestyle of this area, people were not much interested to live here compared to comfortable life in the plains of Bangladesh. According to census 2011, only 15,98,221 (Approximately one percent of the total population of Bangladesh) people living in CHT that amounts 10% of the total land of Bangladesh (13,295 Sq KM/5133 sq Mile).

Out of these population, 47% are Bangalees, 26% are Chakma, 12% Marma and the rest 15% combining 10 other small ethnic groups. These small ethnic minority groups started living in CHT with effect from approximately 300-500 years back migrating from Sinloon, China, Arakan, Tripura and other places. Of late, the small ethnic groups living in CHT started claiming themselves to be Aborigines or Indigenous.

Unfortunately some local media and intellectuals are echoing the same without understanding the serious consequence of sovereignty, integrity and independence of our beloved motherland. Principally, the Australian Aborigines, Native American Red Indians, Basques of Spain and France, Incas and Mayans of South America, Ainus of Japan, Maories in New Zealand, Bedouins of Arab etc. who had been living in those lands from the pre-historic ages are known as Aborigines or Indigenous people. Chakma, Tripura and Marmas started inhabiting in CHT around sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; whereas, the Bangalees had been living here in this land for at least four thousand years. So, the question of considering these small ethnic groups as indigenous is irrelevant. According to the Constitution of Bangladesh, the tribal people living in CHT are recognized as small ethnic groups.

Roles of Small Ethnic Groups during Separation in 1947 and Liberation War in 1971
The small ethnic groups of CHT committed mistakes twice and went against the tide. In 1947, they tried to be a part of India and Myanmar. Chakma Leader Kamini Mohan Dewan and Snehakumar Chakma raised the flag of India at Rangamati while Boumang King raised the flag of Burma in Bandarban. Repeatedly, in 1971, Chakma King Tridib Roy and Boumang King Mongshoi Pru Chowdhury played the role of Rajakar and fought for Pakistan. Mr Tridib Roy left for Pakistan at the end of the Liberation War and died on 17 September 2012. He never came back to Bangladesh before his death. But exception was King Mo Pru Shein, the Chief of Mong Circle. He is the only King who participated in the war of independence. He was honoured with the rank of Colonel and took part in direct fighting area Akhaura and Bhairab. He contributed 33 weapons, 4 cars and a lot of money for the Liberation War. Pakistani Aggressors looted at least 8 elephants, 7 horses, 170 buffalos, 1663 cows, 90,000 metric tons of rice, 2700 chairs, 18 Power Tillers, 10 Generators, Crockery items to entertain ten thousand people together, expensive furniture and valuable traditional ornaments worth millions of dollars. It is worth mentioning that, this hero, the Mong Circle Chief, is yet to be honoured duly by the Government. We hope that this noble King and his family’s contribution in the Liberation War will be evaluated in right time.

Kaptai Dam and Reserved Forest
The reprehensible and poorly rehabilitated affected people of Kaptai Dam were very unhappy. Thousands of people including some Bangalees lost their homestead but the then Pakistan Government failed to provide them with appropriate compensation. In an attempt to create reserve forest at Thegamukh, Shuvalong and Rainkhiyang hundreds of families were ousted by the same government again without appropriate rehabilitation. But ironically, these small ethnic groups CHT people supported the Pakistani occupation forces and fought for them during the Liberation War in 1971 and killed many freedom fighters including Captain Aftabul Kader. But most people of our country do not know their role during Liberation War. Bangladesh Government has already started judicial prosecution against the Rajakars and war criminals. Now it is time to consider whether the war criminals of CHT will be tried or not.

Post Liberation War Activities
Before the ocean of blood shed for the war of liberation could dry, the armed miscreants of Jono Shonghoti Shamiti (JSS) named, “Shanti Bahini” started another asymmetric war with an ambush on a Police patrol near Malu Miyah’s hill at Bilaichari Upazila on 18 July 1976 at around 1100 hrs. The rest of the history is the legacy of blood, is the history of blood. The armed miscreants of Shanti Bahini killed innumerable innocent Bangalees, members of security force and people from their own tribes, the small ethnic groups. Those same misdemeanours are still continued by miscreants of UPDF, JSS and the Reformist parties. Till 30 June 2015, these armed miscreants of JSS, UPDF and Reformists have killed 2096, injured 1887 and abducted 2188 persons. Shockingly, one third of these victims are from small ethnic groups of CHT. The security forces also had to pay very high price for maintaining peace, stability, harmony and ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country. Till 30 June 2015, a whopping 353 security personnel were martyred, 452 were injured and another 255 personnel died of malaria and other diseases.

Peace Treaty and its After-effects
People expected an end to the murders, robbery, toll collections, torture and illegal activities through the signing of peace treaty on 2nd December 1997. But the reality was different. Not only Bangalees and members of security forces were targeted, the small ethnic groups of CHT are also oppressed by these armed miscreants of JSS, UPDF and Reformists. The miscreants of UPDF, JSS and Reformists threaten the peace-loving common people, torture them and forcefully collect tolls. With the illegally collected money, they buy lethal weapons and using those weapons, they collect more tolls. It is like a vicious cycle of toll collection. The innocent and poor people of CHT are being tortured, killed, kidnapped and burnt to forcefully collect illegal tolls. Furthermore, through their armed miscreant groups, JSS, UPDF and Reformists are panicking the local administrations and people in disregarding the decisions of government and to have complete domination over CHT. They are trying to enforce the rules of an imaginary government formed by them among the innocent people of CHT. Often the local administrations are suppressed by these goons to accept and abide by their illegal, illogical and whimsical actions or instructions. That is why people are afraid to travel to CHT. A simple question may be asked; why do people fear to do business in such an area with plenteous prospects? Why does everyone have to pay illegal tolls even while doing the development projects? Why do people have to pay tolls for selling their own possessions starting from chicken, duck, goat, cow, pig, or even crops and fruits from their own garden? Who will answer all these questions?

Progress in Peace Accord Implementation 
A half-filled glass with water can be viewed as “half-filled” or “half empty.” Out of a total of 72 articles/sections of Peace accord, 48 have been fully implemented, 15 are almost completely implemented and work is in progress for the rest 9. Honourable Prime-minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina herself was the prime mover and instrumental for the CHT Peace Accord and her Government is duly focused for its implementation. For example, as per the treaty, many of the security force camps have already been withdrawn, but the armed miscreants of JSS are yet to deposit their illegal weapons; while the UPDF and Reformist did not sign any treaty to surrender their weapons. Given the situation above, the people living in CHT believe and it is the reality that if all the security forces are withdrawn from CHT, that will bring dooms day for them. The most complicated issue of the peace accord was land issue. Land Commission has been formed to resolve these problems. Except for the president, most of the members of Land Commission are of small ethnic groups of CHT.

Because of the huge complicacy, the settlement of land dispute is taking little time but it can be very confidently said that the work is in progress. To date, this Land Commission has received a total of 4408 cases (3105 cases in Khagrachari, 969 cases in Rangamati and 384 cases in Bandarban) and issued warrant for 4000 cases; hearing has been completed for 33 cases. Why the progress is so slow? It is slow because the JSS, UPDF and Reformists and their armed miscreants are posing the biggest obstruction since they believe that if the land issue is resolved, their existence will be redundant and their only trump card will be lost. Similarly, some elites and land grabbers who are in possession illegal lands do not want the land problem to be solved and their opinion matters!  Another debacle is the availability of papers with the common ethnic group of people. They had been brutally ruled by the kings without ownership of the lands (what an irony?). In addition to these, few articles/sections of the Peace Accord are conflicting with the constitutional rights for the citizens of Bangladesh. The work is in progress to redress and resolve all these issues. Point to note that, there had examples that the peace treaties signed did not yield any result such as Sudan (1972), Somalia (1990), Angola (1991 and 1994), Rwanda (1993) and Northern Ireland. Therefore, getting impatience in peace accord implementation may not be good for anyone.

Role of Security Forces in Socio-Economic and Human Resource Development of CHT
Unfortunately, the nation is not informed of what the security forces are doing here in CHT. In addition to assisting the civil administration in implementing the Peace Accord and protecting the sovereignty of our country, the security forces are working for developing the health, education, communication, industrial, agriculture, fisheries and poultry sectors. The security forces are also actively take part in organizing tree-plantation, recreational activities and religious and traditional occasions. For some mysterious reasons, the electronic and print media of our country are reluctant to preach this and let the nation know about it. It can be strongly recommended that, except for some terrorist groups, the security forces are welcomed by all regardless of cast and clans. Because it is only less than one percent of the population for whom rest 99% are suffering here in CHT.

Dreams and Visions of the Armed Miscreants of CHT
It is of paramount importance to study, analyze and evaluate the desires, dreams and demands of the local political parties and their armed miscreants. In one single sentence it can be deduced that the parties are not at all interested to do any good to the people living in CHT but working for their won wellbeing. Seeing their activities of brutal torture, extortion, looting, burning, killing, injuring, abducting, raping, burning etc, it does require a rocket scientist to understand their dreams. Few aspects are discussed in the following paragraphs:

Keeping CHT People Illiterate and Depriving them of Higher Education  
The amount of hurdles created by local political parties in establishing Medical College and University in Rangamati is the proof. The children of the political leaders and armed groups are studying in good schools/colleges/universities of home and abroad but they want the CHT people to remain illiterate and learn only mother tongue. It is not said here that people got to forget their mother tongue; the issue of progression or development needs exploration. In India, everyone has to learn at least three languages. The issue is very clear, if the CHT people are educated, it will not be easy to torture them. Bangladesh Government is fighting hard against this obstacle and statistically the situation has improved little. In 1970 there were only 6 high school/colleges in CHT, whereas this number has increased up to 479 now. The primary schools are established in each and every village now. The foundation stone has been laid to start a University, a Medical College has already started its academic activities, 5 stadiums, 25 Hospitals and 1382 cottage industries have been established. The literacy rate increased from 2% in 1970 to 44.6%. The performance could have been much better had there been cooperation, not hindrance from those armed miscreants, who paradoxically claim that they are working for the people living in CHT.

Leading Comfortable Life by Extortion and Torturing Common Mass   
This is a very unpleasant truth prevailing in CHT. It is learnt that they collect Tk 320 million per year (USD 4 million) only from Matiranga  and a whopping Tk 4 billion (USD 50 million) from whole CHT every year only through extortion. Question is, where do they spend this money? How many schools, colleges or hospitals are established by the UPDF, JSS or Reformists? How many feet of road have been constructed by them? What they have done looting the hard earned money of the poor people? It is high time to take accounts of the fortunes gathered by these miscreants. The small ethnic people living in hill tracts are relieved from paying tax to the Government. But they are forced to pay illegal tolls to these miscreants. Though Bangladesh Government does not get any tax from here but it allots and expends a huge amount for the development of the CHT area and for the wellbeing of the people living here. Let us examine the statistics again. In 1970, there were only 48 km roads in CHT, now it is 1500 km including lots of bridges and culverts. But the miscreant groups have always been obstructing any development works in CHT. All the parties forcefully extort money from all the economic activities. It is learnt that for every development works JSS, UPDF and Reformist parties collect approximately 10%, 5% and 3% respectively of the budgeted amount. Otherwise, they abduct labours, hijack key personnel and sometime kill important persons. Why entrepreneurs, big companies and organizations do not invest here? Why the contractor of Laxmichari to Barmachari road had to flee away? When the innocent people of CHT will be freed from these terrorists?

Autonomy and Eventual Creation of Jummu Land    
Their third day dream is making an autonomous or independent country named Jummu Land. East and West Germany were united, North and South Korea are trying to get united, India integrated Sikim to become even larger, the whole Europe is using common currency and allowing people to travel without passport and visa, Scotland voted for remaining united with the UK. When everyone is trying to unite to be stronger, the CHT miscreants are trying to divide Bangladesh. Their day dream will never come true. There are two more points worth mentioning. If the dreamt Jummu Land is formed by them, they will have to fight for establishing separate Chakma Land, Marma Land, Tripura Land etc because everyone knows the disparities between Chakmas, Marmas,  Tripuras and other groups in opportunities, education, living condition etc. And the other point is, whether the 160 million people and their efficient security forces will accept or allow any anti-liberation group or person in trying to divide this country.

To Drive Away Half of the People Living in CHT       
Another dream of the miscreants is to drive away half of the population of CHT, the Bengalees living here for decades. The most developed country of the world, United States is called a country of immigrants. Except for the native red Indians, 99% of the citizens have migrated from other countries. People of many cast and clans are living peacefully in Singapore, Malaysia, Canada and Europe. Many of the children of the local political leaders have been naturalized in America, Australia, England and Europe. The small ethnic people of CHT can go and inhabit in any area of Bangladesh and they are doing it. But the Bangalees, who were born here, raised here and lived here taking the breath of the same air, have to leave this place. What a funny caprice! Even in Peace Accord, it is nowhere mentioned that Bangalees living here in CHT will have to go away. This claim is not realistic at all in the present situation.

What is to be Done by the People Living in CHT
It has been already discussed that the small ethnic groups living in CHT are also the victims and sufferers of their brutal tortures and criminal activities committed by the armed miscreants. Unfortunately, the people living in CHT have to abide by the unlawful orders and desires of these miscreants. Ironically, there is no light visible in near future but hope has to be kept alive. Therefore, it is suggested that the followings can be done to restrain the torture of the miscreants:

Ensuring Own Security   
There is no security force in the world that can provide security door to door. Therefore, people have to unite together to oppose these miscreants. For this reason, security system, e.g. community alert mechanism is to be activated in all villages, public places, markets etc. While the security forces are always ready to attend the call of the people but it is the responsibility of the people to assist in apprehension of the miscreants.

Stop Paying Illegal Tolls and Create Public Opinion against Extortion   
By any means people have to stop paying illegal tolls to the miscreants. This is especially important for the contractors related to development works, mobile companies, transportation companies, and different business owners who actually provide the lion shares. This will restrain them from buying more weapons and eventually, discontinue their ventures. Therefore, everyone has to announce their village/towns as extortion free, toll free and criminal activities free areas and have to unite together to apprehend the miscreants whenever they arrive. It may seem impossible for an individual, but when united together, it will be very well possible.

Endeavour for Socio-economic Development   
Everyone has to try their best to ensure own sustainable socio-economic development. This will eventually help every community and the whole society a healthy living. Education has no alternative in this regard. And education doesn’t mean about passing and obtaining good GPA. Education is about making people self-confident and self-employed. So we are in need of devoted teachers. By doing agricultural activities like tree plantation, farming, fishing, one house one farm project and different business, people can come out of the poverty and dream for a better life. It must be ensured that our next generation gets a better life than what we had and remember that god helps those who help themselves.

Peace and Social Harmony to be Ensured.   
Everyone must work hard and have respect for each other to ensure peace and harmony. Communal harmony is the most important strengths of Bangladesh. Respectful behaviour is expected out of everyone regardless of whether he is Bangalee, small ethnic group, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian. None has the right to hurt people of other cast and clans. None should do anything that may hurt others’ cultural, social and religious or other sentimental issues.

After 44 years of liberation, our achievements are no less than those of our neighbours and in many indicators, Bangladesh has performed better than our neighbours. The present stable situation must not be disturbed by anyone. We must forget conflicts we had in the past and move forward. We must also ensure that the rights of the small ethnic groups are met to the fullest. At the same time, the Bangalees living here are also victim of the circumstances. The problem in CHT can be solved through peace and harmony, not by sending back the Bangalees to the plains. People of our country want to spend their hard earned money for their own family. They want to pass a peaceful life and ensure a better future of their children. They want good education for their children. They want health facilities when they fall sick. This land and people of this land cannot be tortured by only a small portion of miscreants. We need to unite and stand together to make a CHT free from extortion, free form criminal activities and make CHT a better place to live.

♦  The writer is Brig. Gen. of Bangladesh Army &  the Ex. Commander, 24 Artillery Brigade and Region Commander, Guimara Region

Source- the Daily SUN

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