Priority of Politics and Policy Planning

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Withdrawal of Military from CHT; an Over View on its Aftermath

Hills, nowadays, have reached to hill of discussion among the people of Bangladesh from all segments indiscriminately religion, class, profession, gender and even age. The fact that lies behind this is neither a matter of negligence nor a fact of easy to handle but a hard nut to crack. The Chittagong hill tracts area, commonly known as CHT, consists of 5,093 square miles which, from real perspective of calculation, covers ten percent of the total land area of Bangladesh. This is, truly, one side of the coin whenever another side suggests that only this numeric calculation never illustrates the genuine value of the area. This area is relatively rich in natural resources, with fruit growing capability in abundance. There is also timber, bamboo and gas, and possibilities for oil exploration have been actively pursued in recent years. The vicinity is to the North-East of Bangladesh as well as to the north-east of India and are, in the same time, remote strategic areas for both which are normally closed to foreigners from Indian side. Moreover India never permits any international organization even United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) in any of the so called refugee camps. All these aspects of the matter make Bangladeshis more cautious, fearful and dubious regarding this region.

In such a sophisticated situation and background when Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) announced in a media release that the Government of Bangladesh had decided to withdraw 35 temporary camps, three infantry battalions and a brigade of the armed forces from the region without any preplanned preparation, people can never remain in a state of certainty and simplicity. The news turns into a bolt from the blue for the nontribal people of the area as they think them vulnerable, because of some apparent reasons, in absence of military. They, branded as settler, accept, acknowledge and agree this withdrawal of 2,100 troops from the hills by no means whenever contrary to this scenario the tribal people justify it as an insufficient and sluggish process though this is the "biggest" withdrawal of army troops from the Chittagong Hill Tracts since the government signed a peace treaty with the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) on 2 December in 1997. Now it has become a matter of justification about the impact of the withdrawal of the military from the area.

Before going to excavate the ground of controversy between two groups, we have to reexamine their stands related to the issue. Then, in the second phase, we can also take an initiative to sketch the long term effect of the withdrawal. Let me first make a focus on the first party’s thought regarding the region.

The tribal people, who really are consist of 13 ethnic groups, justify their demand standing on the platform of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation 1900 which permitted the region as an autonomously administered district in British administered India. The treaty also prohibited sale and transfer of land to non-indigenous people. Keeping this regulation, done with a colonial power to protect colonial interest, in their mind the PCJSS presented a five-point demand in 1989 which included: Removal of non-indigenous peoples settled in the CHT after 1947; Withdrawal of all Bangladeshi armed forces from the CHT including non-indigenous police force; Retention of the CHT regulations of 1900 and a constitutional provision restricting its amendment; Autonomy for the CHT with its own legislature and recognition of Jumma nations right to self-determination; and Deployment of a United Nations peace-keeping force and implementation of these measures under the auspices of the UN. Though the 1997 treaty does not have a total resemblance with those five demands, the PCJSS never comes back ward from those demands in their activities.

The question that comes now is how much these demands cope with the reality of 21st century. First of all the regulation was signed with a colonial power ensuring colonial interest neglecting the interest of common, real and permanent people of this subcontinent. Now this is an independent state which always should try, as all nation states do, to uphold national interest not any colonial interest. Secondly the regulation came to an end in 1963 when The Chittagong Hill Tracts lost its special status and autonomy under an amendment to the Pakistan Constitution. Thirdly restriction on arrival of people from different parts, though within the state, is never a concept of 21st century when people with a handsome number go abroad passing international boundary. Moreover Bangladesh is a densely populated country where about 1000 people live per square kilometers. Contrary to this reality there, in the hill tract areas, is a very low density of population. Because of river erosion and natural disasters sometimes people from different parts of the country go there for settling with their own accord. In this regard some argue that land is the main source of the earning of tribal people and if they find their land lost they have no way to survive. Yes this is one of the burning questions to be reexamined and rescreened through the goggles of impartiality and reality. Nowadays it is an age of science and technology which has made industrialization a must for Bangladesh as she has a small land with vast population. For this, if industrialization and modernization can be accelerated and materialized, a small segment of land can be used for such a production which in past could be gained by a gigantic area. So question of modernization and industrialization comes first not the amount of land. Bearing this fact in mind the demand of PCJSS is to be redefined and reconsidered.

If the scenario does not change and government prolongs the pullout of military the impact will be beneficiary neither for tribal people nor for settlers and the real loser will be Bangladesh. First of all a power vacuum will be created, if pull out of military is done all of a sudden, and different segments of tribal groups will try to bridge this gap of power vacuum with a jaundiced eye of individual and group interest which in the long run will pave the way of permanent anarchy in the region. In such a poisonous circumstances regaining calm and quiet state will be a matter of building castle in the air and powers outside country will be able to get themselves on the driving seat regarding the issue. Thus this step may turn into an acid test of security and integrity, two unchangeable and permanent values for sovereignty. In this connection it is to be kept in mind that there is no affinity among tribal people and anarchy is an ever continuing picture of hill tracts even with the presence of army. The region has been deteriorated alarmingly in recent times as the two main rival organizations of the region, Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) and the United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), and several groups of armed cadres are resorting to open confrontation. Abductions are being followed by kidnappings while put to death are being avenged by horrific killings. A total of 500 persons were taken life, around 100 abducted and more than 1000 injured during the last five years in CHT. As many as 24 fortified clashes between the militants of PCJSS and UPDF had occurred during the same period. Besides, the scoundrels were occupied in gun battles with army men and police eight times during the last four months. The armed cadres of both PCJSS and UPDF had set fire to tribal villages and markets in isolated hill areas of CHT. Sources said the activities of the rival political parties in CHT resulted in more than 60 gunfights in the last eleven months. Moreover many incidents of abduction took place in the CHT including the kidnapping of three foreigners from Naniarchar under Rangamati district in immediate past.

The above state never permits any pull out of army from the region but it is also as true as the sun comes after night that an unending attendance of military is never can be a solution. Military must have to come back in cantonment either today or tomorrow. But it must be done with a slow but steady process ensuring security of both state and people beyond considering whether tribal or nontribal. At the same time we have to take into consideration the citizens’ psycho-socio-political as well as the civil and economic aspects of their day-to-day life and address them with sufficient care. Industrialization and development should be the first priority work so that dependency over land can be reduced considerably. Bridge between tribal and nontribal people is another must but tough task for government. Mutual belief, respect and dependency should be created by different measures in various fields. The tribal people have to make a concern of an integral part of main stream people. Thus by slow and sluggish but steady and sturdy process the region should be made as a heaven place and military should be pulled out by a preplanned way without hampering national interest and security. Otherwise not only the nontribal people but also the tribal people will have to surrender to an anarchy, mistrust and misfortune. None of the parties will be benefitted and in the long run Bangladesh will be a victim and scape-goat of international politics.


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