CHT accord and ten wasted years | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 06, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 06, 2007

Strategically Speaking

CHT accord and ten wasted years

A decade has gone by, and we have very little to show insofar as the implementation of the major stipulations of the Peace Accord of December 2, 1997, between the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sangahati Samit (PCJSS), is concerned. Just as a point of clarification, the agreement was an "accord" and not a "treaty" as some refer to it.
It was resolved that the genuine anxiety of the hill people would be addressed in order to satisfy their aspirations to live as a separate (not independent) entity under the flag of Bangladesh, and to uphold political, social, cultural, educational, and economic rights, and expedite socioeconomic development process of all citizens in the CHT.
The original demand of self-rule was toned down, not to the satisfaction, though, of everybody amongst the tribal groups; nor have all the clauses of the Accord been acceptable to all the plains people. This was evident from two separate meetings held on December 2, which projected different views on the same issue
The answer to my query perhaps is not too difficult to seek. It would not be wrong to suggest that there has been a general lack of will of the governments that were in power during the ten years since the deal was formally agreed upon. In particular, those provisos that deal with the devolution of power have hit a snag. And that is what causes concern among the tribal people.
Every year since 1997, Mr. Larma, leader of one faction of the tribal groups that support the Accord, has been calling upon the government to fulfill its part of the obligation by implementing the various clauses; the calls were accompanied by threats of dire consequences. One cannot blame him for that since it is the only way that he can retain his credibility among his tribe as a leader, which he put on the line when he signed the agreement.
This year, the call was subdued. That does not mean that Mr. Larma has relented on his six-point demand that he made in 2004, nor given up entirely the option of taking to the hills with his band as an alternative, which he suggested in 2006 he might be compelled to do to force the issue upon the government.
I feel that the government must visualize Mr. Larma's position realistically and dispassionately. Giving up arms and calling for a ceasefire, that he did in 1992, was an act of wisdom motivated by a great degree of realpolitik.
The insurgency was losing steam no doubt, and the external support that Larma had relied upon for almost twenty years was also diminishing. And there was little guarantee, if at all, that such support would continue, particularly in the wake of the installation of a new government in Dhaka in 1996. Although many question whether the deal would have been at all possible without India letting the Shanti Bahini (SB) know that the option of arms was the least bit efficacious under the changed circumstances, one presumes that the changed reality was not lost upon the PCJSS leadership. Their position in 1996 was in some ways similar to what the LTTE in Sri Lanka found themselves in, post 9/11. Agreeing to sign the Accord was a strategically wise decision on the part of the PCJSS.
But his weakened bargaining position does not, in any way, diminish either the gravity or the relevance of the genuine grievances of the hill people. This fact had been acknowledged by all the past governments. This is amply evident in their efforts over the years leading up to the signing of the peace deal, including the regime of Gen Ershad, to resolve the CHT by embarking upon dialogues with the Shanti Bahini.
After a decade of the signing one must ask why there has been no progress in the implementation of the Accord. Except for some cosmetic actions during the three years of the AL rule, which must be given the credit for bringing about the agreement, and during the five years of the BNP's, which had rejected the deal out of hand as a "sell out" by the AL, since, according to them, the treaty impinged on the unitary nature of the state as laid down in the Constitution, very little of substance has been done to implement the Accord in its entirety.
The December 1997 deal, to some, was an act of one-upmanship by the AL. In retrospect, one feels that they would have done better to have taken the other parties on board and thrashed out the various clauses before inking the deal. That would perhaps have held all the parties to the moral obligation to see the deal through, whichever party was in power. As it is, it would be immoral for any party to soft-pedal on the self-serving plea that it was not they that had signed the compact. History bears evidence that all the major parties that had held the reins of the government had, at one time or another, involved the PCJSS in negotiations to resolve the issue.
One may well ask whether too much has been committed in the deal, which we are now not in a position to fulfill because of the various constitutional impedimenta. If that be the case, would anyone, particularly the hill people, be wrong in feeling that they have been let down, and the intention behind the whole exercise was anything but addressing of their genuine grievances?
We have wasted ten long years. We must not forget that the state had made commitments to a segment of its people. It is the obligation of the state to fulfill those. And as there is no one single architect of the deal, the ignominy of failure to see it through, as well the consequences that the country might face as a result, will have to be shouldered by all the major political parties.
What begs the question is, if there are constitutional barriers, the best thing would be to get experts to fix a way out. It would be in fitness of things to involve the PCJSS in further discussions to determine how the deal can be implemented without violating the constitution on the one hand and on the other the spirit of the deal itself. One hears about "reviewing" the accord. But any review can be justified only after concrete actions to implement all the provisions of the accord are seen to have been taken. That is not the case. Moreover, any "review" ought to be done by an elected government.
What I had said in these columns last year bears repetition. It is clear that the accord must be made acceptable to all concerned. The government must ensure that the apprehensions of the majority are allayed and any devolution of power does not go against the grain of natural justice and rights of a citizen. We must also fulfill the commitment made to the hill people. We can ill afford unrest in the CHT once again.

The author is Editor, Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.

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