Photo: ZAHEDUL I KHAN
CHT Accord Hope and Reality
On the 13th anniversary of the signing of the CHT Accord, MANGAL KUMAR CHAKMA evaluates its partial implementation.
In order to resolve the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) problem through political and peaceful means, the CHT Accord, popularly known as CHT Peace Accord was signed between the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) on December 2, 1997. This Accord was achieved after a series of dialogues between the government and PCJSS. This Accord paves the way for re-introducing special government system in CHT.
It is mentionable that the CHT is a region inhabited by the indigenous Jumma peoples. During pre-colonial period, this region maintained its sovereignty under its own feudal kings. After inclusion of this region under the British Empire in 1860, the British government enacted the CHT Regulation of 1900 to preserve a separate administrative status for the Jumma peoples of this region. Later, the Pakistan government recognised the CHT Regulation of 1900 to be in effect under its 1956 constitution, preserving the status of the CHT as a region with a separate administrative system. The second Pakistani constitution of 1962 also used the term "tribal region" to recognise the CHT as a special region.
In 1964, when the Tribal Area status of the CHT was revoked in the Constitution of Pakistan, despite demands from the Jumma peoples, the special status of the region was not revived. Then in 1972, the demands of the late M N Larma for constitutional safeguards for the CHT and recognition of the identities of the indigenous peoples of the CHT fell on deaf years. Hence, PCJSS launched an armed struggle for right to self-determination since 1976 onwards when all democratic avenues failed to draw the attention of the government.
Though the armed struggle continued for about two and a half decades, the PCJSS always kept open the path for a political solution to the CHT issue by peaceful means. Consequently, formal negotiations started in 1985 with the government of General Ershad. Finally, the historic CHT Peace Accord was signed with the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina in 1997.
The CHT Accord had ended the decades-long fierce armed conflict between the Jumma people and the Government of Bangladesh. This Accord has laid down a basis upon which to bring forth people-oriented development in the CHT.
Though the then Awami League government signed the CHT Peace Accord, the regime as a whole showed a lack of seriousness in implementing the Accord. It nevertheless took several initiatives toward implementing it. Just after the signing of the Accord, some matters have been implemented, including the formulation of some of the related laws. This has created the practical basis for the implementation of the Accord. Formulation of the CHT Regional Council Act (CHTRC) and three Hill District Council Acts, establishment of the CHT Affairs Ministry, repatriation of the Jumma refugees from India are some of the matters that have been implemented.
In fact, though the Regional Council Act and the three Hill District Council Acts were enacted, they were never properly enforced, so the special administrative system with CHT Regional Council and three Hill District Councils (HDCs) could never be made effective. The CHTRC is expected to be the final authority with regards to development and administration in the CHT. In practice, due to lack of political support from the successive governments, the CHTRC has not been able to exercise its full authority over the CHT. Similarly, the HDCs have not been empowered yet by the government to exercise their full authority in their respective districts.
The temporary camps of the armed forces are yet to be closed down as per CHT Accord; rather, de facto military rule was imposed under the name of "Operation Uttoron". The Jumma refugees who returned from India and the internally displaced Jumma people were not rehabilitated, rather, Bengali settlers were included as internally displaced people and efforts were made to rehabilitate them in the CHT in violation of the Accord.
Though the Land Commission was formed, it was unable to resolve any land disputes and the Land Commission Act was passed with provisions that were contradictory to the Accord. In addition, present chairman of the Land Commission declared to conduct a land survey in violation of the provisions of the Accord and continues to adopt decisions without holding meetings with the members of the Commission.
The provision vesting the circle chiefs with exclusive powers to grant permanent resident certificates was not enforced; instead, the deputy commissioners were given the power to issue permanent resident certificates violating the CHT Accord. Land leases previously given to non-permanent residents were not cancelled and instead outsiders were given new leases in violation of the Accord. Voter lists for the CHT were not prepared only with permanent residents but included outsiders. The provision to provide employment to permanent residents of the CHT with priority for Jumma people in all forms of civil service in the CHT was also not followed. The above are some of the unimplemented provisions that particularly deserve attention.
It is a matter of great hope that the grand alliance led by the Awami League came to power in the general election held in December 2008. The Awami League had promised in its election manifesto that it would fully implement the CHT Accord. However, almost two years have passed and the present government is yet to take effective steps to implement the CHT Accord.
Hence, no basic changes have been achieved during the tenure of the present government. Rather, there has been hardly any positive development in the overall situation in the CHT. Expansion of settlements and forcible land grabbing by the Bengali settlers with the support of military and civil administration continue unabated in all the three districts of CHT.
As a result, though more than 13 years have passed after signing of the Accord, most of the provisions, especially the main issues of the Accord, such as preservation of tribal-inhabited characteristics of CHT region, effective enforcement of the three HDCs and CHT Regional Council Act, resolution of land disputes through Land Commission, rehabilitation of returnee Jumma refugees and internally displaced Jumma families, withdrawal of temporary camps of security forces and military administration, preparing voter list only with the permanent residents of CHT, rehabilitation of the Bengali settlers outside CHT, etc., have either been partially implemented or left unimplemented.
Many powerful influences are standing in the way of implementation of the CHT Accord. Of these, the most important is the government's lack of strong political commitment for implementation of the Accord. Since its signing, the successive governments showed little sincerity or goodwill in implementing the Accord.
Another obstacle to the CHT Accord implementation process is the anti-accord role played by the military forces deployed in the CHT as well as government employees at the level of the three hill districts as well as the sub-district level. They in general do not wish for the CHT Accord to be implemented. A form of military administration under the name of "Operation Uttoron" continues to this day in the CHT. Though some of the military officers deployed in the CHT do support the Accord, other powerful quarters can still be seen to be active in opposing it.
Yet another obstacle to implementation of the Accord is the presence of fundamentalist and extreme communalist organisations in CHT. These fundamentalist organisations have been assisting the Bengali settlers in carrying out communal attacks on Jumma peoples in order to prevent implementation of the Accord.
The role of the CHT Affairs Ministry (MOCHTA) has also not been positive with regard to implementation of the CHT Accord. The idiosyncratic mindset of the bureaucrats of the CHT Ministry deeply affected by a chauvinistic mentality is largely responsible for the total non-cooperation for implementation of the Accord. Almost all the officers and employees at the MoCHTA continue to be non-indigenous persons who have only superficial exposure and understanding of the complexities of the region.
Under the circumstances, chaos and confusion reign supreme in the region instead of peace and normalcy. It will not be possible to implement the CHT Accord fully and properly unless these obstacles are removed. Implementation of the CHT Accord is the only way to achieve a lasting political solution to the CHT issue.
In order to resolve the CHT problem through political and peaceful means and to establish the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples of the region, the implementation of the CHT Peace Accord is key. Without proper and speedy implementation of the CHT Peace Accord, good governance and rule of law in the CHT will remain elusive.
Mangal Kumar Chakma is Publicity and Information Secretary of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti.