18 years and not done yet!

Today is the 18th anniversary of the CHT Accord, and it is pathetic to hear the tribal leaders still lamenting its non fulfillment in toto. Very few would take issue with them on this count. The Accord remains only partly implemented, its more complex provisions left in a limbo all these years. 

If it takes nearly as long to fulfil the post-conflict pledges as the conflict had lasted then one could make a few rational assumptions. One, the Accord was faulty with loopholes, second, the government is unwilling to proceed with it further to avoid any more constitutional complications, third, the government is unwilling to allow the Accord to go through legal scrutiny in the court of law. 

On the contrary, if we were to take it that none of the three is true, the only question that can follow is, why, even after 18 years, have not all the provisions of the Accord been implemented? 

Every year preceding the 2nd of December , and even on that day also, and this year was no exception, the tribal leaders led by Shantu Larma lament, justifiably, the lack of progress in the full implementation of the Accord, and every year they come out with veiled threats of force to achieve their aim. And every year we see words of hope thrown at them by government highups.

In the last several years we have heard nothing from the CHT Accord Implementation Committee, which is headed by the deputy leader of the House, as to the progress of the Accord implementation. However, the PM's advisor on foreign affairs has always held out high hope to the tribal people of the CHT. This year he implored them to have patience and faith in the government. After 18 years, to ask someone to have patience is an unkind joke and belittles not only the one advising patience, but also the people he is advising.  May we ask as to what has been done regarding the 12 CHT specific laws and 26 related laws which, according to the advisor, need to be amended? 

Perhaps reminding ourselves of what the same advisor said in the past on the CHT issue will put the matter in perspective. In 2012 he had expressed his optimism that the 1997 CHT Peace Accord would be implemented in full in 'the next one year'. We could not share his optimism then, and after three years, regrettably, we add, our position has been vindicated.  

It is quite understandable that the BNP would soft pedal on the matter, having opposed the Accord in the first place, when it was running the government. But the position of the AL, who had authored the Accord, is quite baffling. It is difficult to believe that the political parties will not have realised that the state has made a commitment to a section of its people which cannot be abrogated.

Is Shantu Larma wrong in questioning the sincerity of the government towards the Accord that it itself had penned? We ask again, as we have done in the past, why has the government not appealed against the High Court verdict on the writ that sought and got its ruling that declared some of the provisions of the agreement unconstitutional in 2010, since it violates the unitary structure of the state? There is a stay of the Appellate Division verdict since April 2010 and the government has not gone for a regular appeal yet. And there are at least six such Articles, namely 36, 80, 122, 143 and 144 of the Constitution, that the Accord is in conflict with. And ways will have to be found to reconcile the contradictions.     

It is for all the major political parties to ensure application of all the provisions of the Accord. It cannot be lost on them that all the major political parties, starting from the JP to BNP and lastly the AL, had made endeavours to solve the CHT issue and had engaged the PCJSS in dialogue of sorts. It is another thing that the AL succeeded in materializing the idea in 1997. One wishes that on matters like this the other political parties could have been taken onboard so that that the accord would be owned by all who would then be obligated to see it through when in power.  

Personally Mr. Larma has a lot at stake. He put his credibility with his people on the line by signing the Accord. And he may have compelling reasons to threaten to relapse to the days of the 1980s.   

The Accord was a remarkable step towards a lasting solution of a conflict that had gone on for more than two decades. It is an irony that what was seen as a means of a permanent conflict resolution may well hold within itself the potential for the eruption of another conflagration.  

The author is Associate Editor, The Daily Star