Brother against brother | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 21, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 21, 2010

Brother against brother

EACH movement, in stasis or motion, gravitates to leaders. Symbols and enigma -- where hopes are invested, even in absentia.
For two decades, the movement for self-determination of the Pahari (Jumma) people of Chittagong Hill Tracts had leaders and symbols. The guerillas of Shanti Bahini were figures never seen, always imagined. Then, one day in 1997, the ghost army's representatives came out of hiding. A helicopter landed in a forest clearing. Designated men on each side, at the negotiation table. Finally, the signing of the CHT Accord with the government, a ceremony with doves, a surrender of guns in a stadium.
So there our curtain goes down, the story ambles along to a happy ending. Or does it? On the 12th anniversary of the Accord, the coda is that almost no aspect of the Accord has been implemented. Even the minimal steps towards implementation, that began last year under this new government, have provoked an organised opposition from groups that want to cancel the Accord. As always in Bangla politics, stopping things is easier.
A court case is underway, trying to declare the CHT Accord unconstitutional. With large amounts of land and forest timber at stake, those who want to keep Paharis marginalised, and the CHT Accord in permanent limbo, are muscular, connected and funded.
But another issue has emerged as a boon for the anti-Accord groups -- the fractures within the Pahari movement itself, grown sharper each year the Accord remains unimplemented. Up to 1997, the Pahari community was represented militarily by Shanti Bahini, and politically by JSS (Jana Sanghati Samity). When the accord was signed, a section of the guerilla army and the political movement criticised the Accord, particularly because it failed to provide constitutional recognition to ethnic and adivasi groups. That opposition crystallised into UPDF (United People's Democratic Front), a new political party of Paharis that formed from the refusenik segment of JSS.
While much of the efforts of JSS and UPDF are focused on the conditions of Pahari oppression, some of their energy in recent years is diverted to conflicts with each other. These fractures do not spring out of thin air. Power struggles within movements are standard issue, especially when the struggle continues longer without results.
But another theory is that anti-Accord groups have also done their part to amplify these internal conflicts among Paharis. Certainly for those Bengalis who want to block the Accord, a common and convenient refrain is: How can we reach a settlement with the Paharis, they are fighting each other?
In the latest expression of fracture, leaders of the JSS called for a political ban on the UPDF. One reason for the call for a ban is that UPDF has opposed the 1997 Accord.
However, according to their recent press releases, UPDF still considers the Accord "unfair" but now accepts it as "fact" and works within that framework. In addition, JSS claims UPDF members are involved in kidnapping in the region. UPDF makes the same counter-claim against JSS. There are diametrically opposed claims from both sides, with no mechanism to get to truth, resolution or stability.
The pertinent question is, where are Pahari political leaders going with this? Do the JSS leaders think that calling for a ban on UPDF, besides being undemocratic, is going to help the movement for Pahari rights? UPDF also has not made significant moves towards making peace with JSS. Both sides seem deliberately oblivious to the fact that a widening fracture within the Pahari movement, through an active struggle for supremacy, will only help those who want to sabotage the CHT Accord.
This is a familiar scenario, from many liberation movements in our past. The third world charisma crisis is embedded with this as well. Guerilla and liberation leaders in the Global South's recent past: They won the war, but lost the peace. In movements and in negotiations, the leader is the movement, the movement is the leader. But after accords, after independence, after an armistice, the same leaders can fail the movement.
It is urgent, on this crucial anniversary, that the two opposing factions of the Pahari movement stop battling each other, and reach some form of pragmatic détente. The government must be an active intermediary, by insisting that both organisations are represented in talks and decision-making bodies on the future of the CHT.
A continued internecine struggle between UPDF and JSS only helps those who want a return of conflict to Chittagong Hill Tracts. This group, pushing the Accord towards collapse, is not insignificant. They take advantage of chaos and continue to profit from the land, while this endless shadow battle plays out.

Naeem Mohaiemen wrote the chapter on ethnic and religious minorities in several Ain Salish Kendra annual reports.

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