Friday, May 30, 2014
THE assurance of the prime minister’s international affairs adviser on Tuesday that the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord would be implemented before the end of the current year sounds empty, to say the least. According to a report published in New Age on Wednesday, the adviser, who has been assigned by the prime minster to look after issues related to the implementation of the accord, also told a seminar in the capital Dhaka that the much-talked-about land reform bill would be placed in parliament soon. His assurance and assertion came after rights activists at the seminar had expressed their doubts about the government’s ability and/or intention to implement the accord. Such articulation of ‘no confidence’ is no doubt based on legitimate reasons.
As we have written in these columns many times over, the peace accord, signed between the 1996-2001 Awami League government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, the political umbrella of the now-defunct Shanti Bahini, on December 2, 1997, not only heralded the end to 22 years of guerrilla warfare in the hill tracts but also marked, for the first time, the state’s theoretical recognition of the conflict of interest between the majority Bengalis and the minority ethnic communities, thereby giving rise to the possibility of natural peace in the war-torn region through negotiated settlement of the disputes. Regrettably, however, the Bengali chauvinism of successive governments, which may have stirred resentment in the minority ethnic communities in the first place and subsequently prompted them to take up arms for their rights, seems to have stood inexorably in the way of the accord’s implementation.
Of course, some provisions in the treaty are not only legally untenable but also run counter to the constitution. For example, the designation of land ownership as a requirement for voter eligibility and the provision for a separate voter roll are in direct contravention with the constitution. However, the rest of the provisions do not appear to have any legal or constitutional drawbacks and should have been implemented in the past 16 years or so. Suffice to say, none of the governments in this period have made any substantive effort to either address these legal-constitutional glitches or properly implement provisions that are not legally/constitutionally questionable.
Such foot-dragging has naturally deepened frustration among the leaders of the hill people and prompted them to question the sincerity and seriousness of the dominant political class, which is dominated by the majority Bengali community, about the implementation of the accord. The incumbent AL-led government seems to have fuelled such suspicion by pushing through the 15th amendment to the constitution that virtually makes non-Bengali citizens of Bangladesh second-class citizens.
Suffice to say, the deepening mistrust among the hill people about the intent of the dominant political class has had its manifestations in the growing tension in the hill tracts. The situation could very well snowball into a prolonged crisis again if the government continues with its familiar and apparently indifferent attitude. Hence, instead of making unrealistic assurances, the incumbents need to come up with tangible progress towards effective implementation of the CHT accord.