The CHT accord was, and remains, a seminal achievement
MAINUL Hosein shocked us all with his view that the caretaker government he is part of is actually a national government. We did not agree with him when he made his view known. And when the chief of army staff quickly stepped in to reassure us that the government was indeed a caretaker and not a national government, we felt relieved, for all the obvious reasons.
And now the law and information adviser has come up with another shocking remark, one we could certainly have done without. He agrees with the individuals calling themselves the "Parbatya Chattagram Shamo Odhikar Andolon" that the accord reached by the government of Bangladesh and the insurgents in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1997 needs to be reviewed.
Up to a point, Mainul Hosein is right. He is right when he informs the country that no agreement is perfect. No one has ever said it is. Indeed, if agreements were all perfect, all flawless, the world would be a much better place to inhabit than it has so long been.
But where Hosein errs is in telling people that the 1997 accord needs to be reviewed. He tells us that new conflicts have arisen between the people of the region and the Bengali settlers in their midst. That may well be true, in a manner of speaking.
With men like the now disgraced Wadud Bhuiyan having played a leading role in keeping tensions alive in the CHT, it is quite possible that new worries and new psychological ammunition for a new beginning to an old conflict will be there. Our difficulty, though, comes in seeing Mainul Hosein getting involved in the issue.
What the law adviser appears to have ignored here is that if there are new questions, new difficulties emerging from a deal that has been initialled and ratified, it is for the parties involved to sit around a table and find a way out of the problems. There is hardly an example anywhere of a deal once reached being reviewed in the way the law adviser suggests that it be done.
Of course, agreements have, in the course of modern history, been thrown overboard (think of the ceasefire deal between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers), with horrendous consequences.
In our instance, there does not appear to be a situation where conditions are about to go back to square one in the Hill Tracts. And that is precisely why one is rather mystified at the remarks the law adviser has just made about the 1997 accord. The monumental question we are now left dealing with is simple: as a member of a government that is caretaker in nature, should Mainul Hosein have created this new controversy over an agreement that remains an achievement for the people of Bangladesh?
And the answer again is simple: the law adviser should have stayed away from it all, rather than leading people into believing that there really was a problem of gigantic proportions rearing its head in the Hill Tracts. Predictably, Hosein's comments have drawn flak, and justifiably too.
No matter how many reservations you may have about Sheikh Hasina and her administration, you cannot shy away from acknowledging the singular contribution to strengthening national security they made through the CHT agreement. And if indeed there are certain points in the deal that need to be focused on again, it is a job only an elected government is equipped to deal with. Mainul Hosein informs us, with somewhat of exasperation and to our surprise, that the caretaker government is today expected to deal with the accumulated problems left behind by its predecessors.
That is surely not the case. What the people of this country expect this caretaker government to do for them is to ensure fundamentally two basic things. In the first place, deal with the corruption that has undermined our self-esteem as a nation over the last many years. In the second, create conditions conducive to the holding of free, fair and transparent general elections as a step toward transferring power back to a government based on the consent of the governed.
The reconstitution of the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Service Commission has encouraged the nation in its belief that bad governance does not have to be a fact of life for us. The drive against corruption has certainly sent waves of fear into people who have so long been indifferent to the law. It now remains for us to see the degree to which general elections will be credible when finally they are organised.
Now, when the law adviser suggests that all the burden of correcting past wrongs has fallen on this government, we might remind him that it is the caretaker administration itself which has gradually expanded its mandate. No one asked it to.
And where treaties and accords are the matter, it is the convention among states that once concluded, such treaties and accords will be adhered to in the larger interest of those for whom they were concluded. The law adviser would have done a lot of good if he had declined to be drawn into this kind of controversy. Or if he really needed to be there among people unhappy with the accord, he could, as a government functionary responsible for the well-being of all sections of the population, have listened as well to those voices who have strenuously upheld the CHT deal over the last decade.
That he did not, or would not, now impels us to ask if his views happen to be the views of the caretaker government as a whole. If they are not, will the caretaker government distance itself from his remarks and so reassure us that what one of its advisers has been saying on a sensitive, settled issue is something that should not have been said?
In these past many weeks, the waters have been getting muddied for reasons that are not quite hard to decipher. Notorious old collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army have brazenly gone about brandishing the idea that there are no war criminals in Bangladesh; old bureaucrats with not a bit of shame in them have tried to pass off the War of Liberation as a civil war; and extreme rightwing academics, suddenly blind to history, tell us in brazen manner that in 1971 it was a war between India and Pakistan and, therefore, there can be no war criminals in Bangladesh.
We in this country are hardly in need of any new controversy. Our cause as a sovereign people struggling to give themselves a government as good as themselves will take a mauling when an adviser of the caretaker administration begins to question agreements that stopped a long insurgency and strengthened the country's security.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts accord was a seminal achievement, reached after years of bloody strife and resultant suffering. Those who question it, ten years after it came into effect, are those whose motives call for careful observation. Overall, the need is for the country to examine the motives of such outfits as the "Parbatya Chattogram Shamo Odhikar Andolon," and how they emerge out of nowhere, to put at risk all that has been put in place in the interest of all the people of this country.