Revisiting the Peace Accord
TODAY is sixteen years since the CHT Peace Accord was signed and we are still waiting for its full implementation. No doubt, significant steps have been taken towards implementation of the Accord; institutions as stipulated by the accord have been established in the CHT and more than twenty specific subjects transferred to those institutions. That notwithstanding, there is a general feeling that not enough has been done to meet the expectations and aspirations of the tribal people, particularly in respect of devolution of power to the local councils. Shantu Larma has vented his feelings yesterday and indicated the areas which need to be addressed, and that include inter alia, resolution of land dispute, regional council rules of business and election to the Regional and District Councils.
That we are feeling the compulsion to revisit the accord suggests that that there might be lacunae in the Accord that have somehow resisted resolution. It also, regrettably, suggests that there has been lack of commitment of successive governments to address those flaws with any seriousness. And looking at the way things are moving, one cannot be very optimistic that all the provisos of the accord can be fully implemented soon.
In this regard one cannot overlook the warning that Shantu Larma has been sending out every year since the Accord was signed, of taking to the hills and taking up arms should the agreement not be fully implemented quickly. He has not carried out his threats as yet, but the government would be committing a grave error of judgment if it takes the Chakma leader for granted.
Let there be no doubt that the 1997 Accord was a historical agreement, and there were perhaps strategic compulsions for Shantu Larma to abjure the path of violence and seek a settlement through dialogue to put an end to the quarter-century of tribal struggle for autonomy. He settled for an arrangement that fell short of what the PCJSS had initially wanted but which does ensure a measure of devolution of power through the various clauses of the agreement. The CHT Accord had divided the indigenous people of the hills with the opponents of the deal feeling let down by what they felt was the 'sell out' to the government. It did divide the people of the plains too. That notwithstanding, Shantu Larma has put his credentials on the line in signing the Accord because there is still a sizeable segment of the tribal population who are anti-accord.
The moot point is that when all the political parties have accepted the accord, of course after initial dissension by the BNP, addressing the reasons for the accord still being in a state of partial limbo assumes urgency. There were complicated issues, particularly those that had to do with the devolution of power, but what is unacceptable is the soft- pedaling of the issue by successive regimes, some more than others, in the last sixteen years with a view to hedge the issue.
Let us remind ourselves that it has been the effort of all the political parties including that of the JP under Ershad to seek a political solution to the CHT problems. Talks were held more than once with the Shanti Bahini in 1986 without any positive outcome. During the BNP regime, a nine-member team consisting of members of the parliament was entrusted with negotiating with the PCJSS and as many as thirteen dialogues were held until mid- 1994 when perhaps the political problem diverted the attention elsewhere. It was during this period that PCJSS declared unilateral cease-fire on August 10, 1992, following the then PM's expression of the hope that it would be possible to find a solution within the framework of the Constitution. Calling for a ceasefire by Shantu Larma was an act of wisdom motivated by a great degree of realpoltik.
There are two major issues that militate against the full implementation of the Accord. The first is the land issue. And of the 13 amendments to CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act 2001, suggested by the indigenous people, only 8 have been incorporated and two were partially included.
The other issue is that of reconciling some of the proviso of the Accord with the constitution. Some of the clauses are in contradiction of Articles 30, 80 122, 143 and 144 of the Constitution.
All the impediments notwithstanding, the state has made a commitment to a segment of our population and everything must be done to fulfill that. If there area stumbling blocks those must be addressed taking into confidence all the stakeholders.
The writer is Editor, Op-ED and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.