A talk on the CHT peace process

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What follows is a slightly edited version of the handout that I had prepared for a lecture that I delivered yesterday at the Defence Services Command and Staff College at Mirpur, Dhaka. During the actual talk, I used a PowerPoint presentation covering more or less the same points included in the handout, but did not dwell on all of them equally. Moreover, I brought in additional stories and angles not indicated in the handout. It may be mentioned that I was the last of three speakers of the seminar that the host institution seemed to have organized as part of activities under what from their point of view was an umbrella called ‘counterinsurgency operations’. The two other speakers were Major General Md. Jahangir Kabir Talukder, the GOC of Chittagong (24 Infantry Division) and Barrister Rokon Uddin Mahmud, a prominent legal expert of Bangladesh. Both of them also spoke on different aspects of the CHT ‘Peace’ Accord from their respective professional perspectives. When my turn came, I began my presentation by pointing out that I was speaking as someone who wore many hats. However, it was the hat of a student of anthropology that I tried to keep on most of the time as I spoke. I also tried to make references to some of the points made by my fellow speakers, offering gentle critiques in a few cases in which I thought it made sense to do so. I like to think I tried to turn the tables subtly in order to encourage my audience (some 200 officers of the armed forces of Bangladesh and 69 of their course mates from other countries) to dwell on bigger issues than what their professional roles might demand.

Lecture Outline

Challenges of Implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Process
By Prashanta Tripura
August 2, 2017
Defence Services Command and Staff College
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Context

  • Overview of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) as a special region of Bangladesh: Its distinctive features in terms of geography, ethnic diversity, livelihood patterns and governance structures
  • ‘CHT Peace Process’ implies more than just the ‘Peace Accord’: The accord of 1997 is just one step of a process, which can be viewed in different ways, e.g. in terms of timeframes considered, levels of analysis, and the points of views of different historical actors involved.
  • Multiple perspectives: There is need for us to look at the given problem at various levels and from multiple perspectives. This speaker combines the perspectives of someone who wears different hats: an anthropologist who has researched on the CHT; a development professional who has worked in the region for many years; someone who happens to be a ‘son of the hills’ (cf. Tripura 1992, 1998, 2012a, 2012b, 2013, 2014, 2016)

Unpacking the quest for ‘peace’ in the CHT

  • Different meanings of the term ‘peace’: How one understands ‘peace’ depends on who is defining it and in what context, e.g. peace from the point of view of the colonial state vs. that of ethnic groups (‘tribes’) that sought to live without and outside of the state.
  • Historical background: The creation of the CHT and the category ‘Hill People’/’(Hill) Tribes’ (Tripura 1992); ‘pacification’ of the so-called Kukis by military force as well as a bit of colonial ‘magic’ (প্রশান্ত ত্রিপুরা ২০১৬); designation of the CHT as an ‘Excluded Area’.
  • The creation of the ‘Shanti Bahini’ or ‘Peace Force’: The armed wing of the PCJSS, one of the signatory parties of the CHT ‘Peace’ Accord of 1997, used to be popularly known as ‘Shanti Bahini’, which literally means, ‘Peace Force’; an interpretation of this naming.
  • Peace process as managing conflicts: ‘Peace’ is a relative concept, and a relational term that is meaningless without an antonym like ‘conflict’; to social scientists, conflicts are normal in social life – there can be no society, no country, no world of absolute peace; seen in this way, ‘peace process’ is another term for ‘managing conflicts’; to do this well, one has to identify the root causes of conflicts, and address them systematically.
  • The root causes of conflicts in the CHT: Historically, people in the CHT have had to deal with mounting threats to their livelihoods (declining access to land), top-down ‘development’ interventions (e.g. Kaptai dam) and cultural marginalization; the deeper factors behind this situation include ethnocentrism of the ruling elites (e.g. the view that ‘hill tribes are primitive’), poor governance, and denial of well-recognized rights.

Challenges specific to the implementation of the CHT Accord of 1997

  • Champions and opponents of the peace process: The CHT Accord of 1997 was a significant achievement for all parties directly involved; however, there were different quarters that opposed it from the outset, though not necessarily for the same reasons; to some, it was too little too late; to others, it involved too many concessions.
  • Early recognition of the challenges involved: That timely and full implementation of the accord would be challenging was always known; as early as in June 1998, a report in the Daily Star on an International Conference on Peace and Chittagong Hill Tracts’ (jointly organized by GOB and UNDP, June 21-22, 1998) had the expression ‘Challenges of Implementation‘ in its title (Haque 1998).
  • Disagreement over what constitutes ‘implementation’: An example would be the PM’s February 10, 2016 response in the parliament to a question by an MP (reproduced in Tripura, NBK 2016) vs. the PCJSS’s open letter to the PM on 16 February, 2016 as a rejoinder to the PM’s response (PCJSS 2016); an international institute, on the other hand, determined 49% implementation after 10 years of the accord (Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, n.d.; cf. Roy, Chakma, Chowdhury and Raidang 2010).

Is the CHT ‘Peace’ Accord mostly implemented or mostly unimplemented?
  • Some of the more difficult areas of implementation: Resolution of land disputes (not a single case solved so far since the accord); identification and rehabilitation of ‘internally displaced people’; demilitarization; local government elections.
  • Issues of mutual trust and confidence, shared understanding, and democratic processes: A typical [misleading] question heard is, “If a Pahari from CHT can own land in Dhaka, why can’t someone from the plains not own land in the CHT?”; but there are more fundamental questions to be asked [that are overlooked], e.g. is there political will at different levels to solve some of the most difficult problems (land disputes, HDC elections), and who benefit from the status quo and who are the losers?
  • The importance of seeing the bigger pictures: CHT as a window to the situation of Bangladesh as a whole, and in fact of the entire planet; the worst abuses of power in the CHT took place at a time when there was no democracy [i.e. formally] in the country as a whole; the plight of the indigenous peoples of the CHT, or in other parts of the world, can give us a clue to the direction of humanity and the planet as a whole (cf. Tripura 2012b).

References

Haque, Mahfuzul (1998) CHT Peace Accord: Challenges of Implementation. The Daily Star, June 24, 1998.
Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies (n.d.) Peace Accord Matrix: Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHT), https://peaceaccords.nd.edu/accord/chittagong-hill-tracts-peace-accord-cht [Website of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA]
PCJSS (2016) An Open Letter from the PCJSS to a speech delivered by Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinavin reply to a starred question relating to implementation of the CHT Accord in the Parliament on 10 February 2016. In English, accessed on August 1, 2017, at http://iphrdefenders.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/PCJSS-Open-Letter-to-PM-16-Feb-2016-English.pdf
Roy, Raja Devasish, P. Chakma, M. S. Chowdhury and M. T. Raidang (2010) Hope and Despair: Indigenous Jumma Peoples Speak on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. Baguio City, Philippines: Tebtebba Foundation
Tripura, Naba Bikram Kishore, ed. (2016) Chittagong Hill Tracts: Long Walk to Peace and Development. Dhaka: Ministry of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs.
Tripura, Prashanta (1992) The Colonial Foundation of Pahari Ethnicity. Journal of Social Studies, No. 58.
______(1998) Culture, Identity and Development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In Discourse: A Journal of Policy Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2 [A subsequent pdf version available at: https://ptripura2.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/p-tripura-culture-development.pdf]
______(2012a) Becoming Bangladeshi. In Himal Southasian, http://himalmag.com/becoming-bangladeshi/
______(2012b) In search of adibashi (indigenous consciousness. In The Opinioin Pages, bdnews24.com, http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2012/08…
______(2013) From Jumia to Jumma: Shifting cultivation and shifting identities in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. In Farms, Feasts and Famines [Himal Southasian quarterly issue of April 2013], Kathmandu, Nepal: Himal Southasian, [Subsequently http://himalmag.com/jumia-jumma/
______(2014) Letter to Bangladesh from a ‘non-existent’ Bangladesh. The Daily Star, August 27, 2014, http://www.thedailystar.net/letter-to-bangladesh-from-a-non-existent-bangladeshi-38811
______(2016) Learning in mother tongue at schools. The Opinion Pages, bdnews24.com, http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2016/02/20/learning-in-mother-tongue-at-schools/
প্রশান্ত ত্রিপুরা (২০১৬) ক্যাপ্টেন লুইন ও ঔপনিবেশিক জাদু বাস্তবতা, আলুটিলা ছাড়িয়ে, এপ্রিল ১৫, ২০১৬, https://ptripura1.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/lewin-colonial-magic/ 


Author: Prashanta Tripura

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