CHT- Struggle for peace
THERE are different views about the success or progress of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) peace process. Some base their claim on the socio-economic development, while some on the cessation of combat. Perceptional mismatch and the plight will perpetuate so long the efforts to implement the process are not vetted against reality.
Does the socio-culture construct of the tribal people welcome development against their sense of traditionalism? Is there a conflict between the notion of indigenous living and economic development? Can nationalism be still viewed from the prism of colonial rule? Can a nation state nurture the idea of nationalism and micro nationalism at the same time? Is there a balance in the demographic growth of different communities to support their respective aspirations? Is there the leadership to carry forward the process of peace keeping with time and reality? Is the road to peace viewed by all actors from a common perspective for a common goal? The measure of progress of the peace process demands investigation in all the above conflicting standpoints of the tribal and non-tribal communities living within the process.
The social construct of the tribal community is greatly influenced by the mythological stories. Economics is not an event of a day, rather planning for long term life management. The rural tribal communities traditionally lack the futuristic vision of life. Though a tiny segment of urban-centric tribal population adjusts to development, the majority, living in the remote areas, are against it.
The religious values of the tribal communities are a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism, which have contributed to their socio-cultural makeup. The religious values strengthened their reclusive social character and prevented any space for people outside their community to integrate. Irreconcilable socio-cultural makeup, predilection for traditional life style and distaste for development, and conflicting religious values of the two communities prevented a situation where peaceful co-existence was possible as defined in the peace plan.
Apart from the historic socio-cultural differences, there is conflict in the sense of nationalism of the nation state of Bangladesh and 'micro nationalism' borne by the tribal communities. The conflict resists political integration and disrupts peaceful co-existence.
The British Empire promulgated the 1900 Regulation from a political motive to secure the British the interst of the administration, which is even now preferred by the tribal communities. It laid down some harsh provisions for the non-tribal communities under the garb of protection of tribal rights and privileges. It was a double-faced system to permanently seal the prospect of integration between people of the hills and the plains.
Bangladesh has molded its administration as a nation state. But it also respected the spirit of 1900 Regulation to preserve the rights of the tribal people by denying the rights of other citizens to live anywhere in the country with a loose interpretation of Section 36 of the Constitution. Under such arrangement, the spirit of the nation state finds it difficult to accommodate both nationalism and 'micro nationalism' of the two communities in its state system. The peace process will perhaps suffer and continue sagging unless there is reconciliation between these two opposing spirits. Thus, what may have been defined as peace for the tribal people is not so viewed by the non-tribal community.
There is unbalanced growth in the demographic sector in CHT. Negative growth is reducing the demographic power of the tribal population from that of the non-tribal. On the other hand, non-tribal population, with upward growth, is causing more demand for land for livelihood. Such unbalanced demographic strength between the two communities finds them in great peril to share land, which is the core issue of the peace process.
Moderate leadership growth depends on the education of youths, who can adjust themselves with the changing realities. There is growth in the tribal education; but the tendency of educated tribal youth to leave the hills for better employment has created a vacuum in the moderate leadership. As the better educated youth don't return to the hills, the poorly educated youth are roped into cadre politics. The few better lots remaining in the hills are lured by the international organisations to serve their goals rather than the peace treaty. Resultantly, the perception and bargain of peace remains in the hands of the old tribal elites, who still carry the idealistic mentality that impedes the peace process.
Peace will languish as long as the different stakeholders of the peace process fail to calibrate their approach towards peace. Unlike before, there are numerous actors to contribute to the peace process; they need to complement each other rather than project their contribution as being better than the others.
Currently, the military is heavily engaged in socio-economic development and bringing harmony between the two communities. But the other stakeholders still see the military as an oppressive force and their role as counter-insurgency.
The goals of national or international development agencies are neither calibrated nor equitable for all communities to effect balanced development. It has further enlarged the existing cleavage in the socio-economic condition of two communities.
For the media, one of the most important actors, CHT unfortunately does not merit in their list of priorities. The plights of the people, who dream of lasting peace, rarely find space in the media. Last, but not the least, politics -- the main tool to bring lasting peace -- is parochial. It didn't grow as much as in the other parts of the country to play its role as the main driver. Against this backdrop, the overall objectives of the peace deal are lost sight of.
An insight into the socio-cultural character of the tribal community, balance between traditionalism and modernity, balanced economic development for all communities, calibration of goals among all stakeholders in the peace process, and sound political growth in CHT are necessary to realise the dream of the peace loving people. The preservation of the culture and tradition of the tribal communities and decent position for the non-tribal community may help both nationalism and micro nationalism to co-exist in Banglades.
The writer is Director at Army Headquarters..