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25 years of CHT peace accord: A glorious chapter of conflict resolution in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* 

Conflicts between the Bangladesh army and Shanti Bahini persisted in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for more than two decades. On December 2, 1997, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the Bangladeshi government signed the CHT Accord, putting an end to the violent armed conflict and improving the life of a lot of the people there. It has been made possible through just seven meetings under the worthy leadership of Sheikh Hasina. The historic peace agreement created an atmosphere of peace in the mountainous region. An atmosphere of peace has been established by ending the armed conflict.
The geographical features and ethnic diversity of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are distinctive. The 13,184 square kilometer territory is bordered by Myanmar and the Indian state of Mizoram on the East and Tripura on the North. With its 1.6 million people, it entails great importance to Bangladesh for its geopolitical location. Due to the conflict-prone Northeast India, the Rohingya issue, the insurgent war, and the Bay of Bengal, it is also situated in one of the world's most unstable sub-regions. The ethnic insurgent conflict began in the late 1970s and lasted for more than 25 years.
After years of peace talks, the landmark Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty was signed during the first tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The successful political settlement of the Chittagong Hill Tracts problem in the regional and international arena at the same time as the signing of the Peace Treaty is a rare achievement for our country. For this reason, Sheikh Hasina's receipt of the UNESCO award was Bangladesh's unique recognition for establishing peace. After the agreement, peace has been established in the entire hill region as well as an opportunity for fair economic and political development to accelerate considerably. The necessity of implementing the Peace Accord has been noted from the remarkable examples of successful management of various socio-economic development activities over the last 25 years.
Several steps have been taken in the last 25 years to implement the peace accord. The Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and Regional Council has been constituted. Out of the three hill district councils and 33 offices under control, 30 have been transferred to Rangamati, 30 to Khagrachari and 28 to Bandarban. Land Commission has been formed to resolve land disputes. 12 thousand 223 tribal refugee families have been resettled.
Under the leadership of the deputy leader of the Parliament, the monitoring committee for the implementation of the mountain agreement has been formed. Parliamentary Standing Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts has been formed. Ethnic Cultural Institutions Bill-2010 has been accepted by the National Parliament. Minority Cultural Institutes have been established in three hill districts. Scheduled quota preference has been given to ethnic groups in employment in various departments. Quota is being reserved for ethnic groups in various educational institutions.
Necessary amendments have been made to Chittagong Hill Regional Parishad, Zilla Parishad and Chittagong Hill Parishad Act. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board Act 2014 has been passed by the National Parliament by repealing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board Ordinance issued in 1976. There were no land laws and regulations. The Land Dispute Settlement Act 2001 was enacted and the Act was amended in 2016.
Chittagong Hill Tracts has also developed socio-economically. A lot of development work is going on. In the fiscal year 1997-98, the development budget in the Chittagong Hill Tracts was Tk 50.57 crore, and in the fiscal year 2017-18, Tk 915.83 crore has been allocated. Two thousand 899 km of power lines have been constructed in three hill districts. A project is under implementation to provide solar power facilities to 5,500 such households where power supply through the national grid is not possible due to remoteness.
Before the peace treaty, there was only 200 km of roads in the mountainous region. Ruma and Thanchi upazilas had no bridge over Sangu river. Now under the supervision of the Ministry of Communications, under the management of the Roads and Highways Department, the Bangladesh Army has constructed a significant number of roads and bridges-culverts of various sizes in remote areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. After the peace treaty, 1,532 kilometers of paved roads and important bridges have been constructed. About 105 km of roads are under construction and the current government has plans to build about 860 km of roads.
After the peace agreement, telecommunication, mobile phone network coverage, and internet system have been improved in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which was almost non-existent before the peace agreement. In light of the agreement, agriculture, health, ethnic groups' own language, education, and culture as well as several areas have been made suitable for tourism in the hill district.
Old age allowance, widow allowance, destitute disabled allowance, and education stipend are available under the social security programme. It has been possible to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life under the 'Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar' project. Apart from this, hundreds of families have been rehabilitated through the shelter project.
Chittagong Hill Tracts' journey from conflict to peace is not without its pitfalls. Various clandestine activities against peace are increasing violence and terrorism. As a result, two issues of 'peace agreement' and 'permanent peace' have become important again in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Because the work of establishing peace is an ongoing process, which has to be carried forward through constant practices and activities. Various organizations of the government, social institutions, etc. have to work continuously for this purpose. The pace of peace has to be accelerated by creating an enabling environment and infrastructure 'for peace' by maintaining trust, faith, amity, security, and mutual understanding in civil society.
The 'Agreement' is an important step towards lasting peace. Its importance is immense. Besides, it is essential to look at the issues that disrupt peace and security that have gradually developed with the changing times. For this, the government and the hill associations must work together. The various agencies of the government should be fully alert, and vigilant about overt and covert activities harmful to peace, security, and public interest and take a proactive role for security and peace.
Permanent peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an important part of Bangladesh, is the expectation of all. The fire of unrest is dangerous to all and the evils of unrest are terrible and harmful. In the past, unrest at home and abroad has had dire consequences. As a result, there is no alternative to working together around the clock to build peace. It is better to move towards a lasting peace based on dialogue and peaceful co-existence with all concerned, not violence.
The trend of peace, development, and progress has been initiated and continues against the backdrop of the peace agreement under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In this continuation, Chittagong Hill Tracts will become a region of peace and development. On the anniversary of the agreement, this is the hope of everyone.
---
*Researcher and Strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka

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