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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ominous signs in the hills

Source: The Daily Star News

The recent clashes in Baghaichari in Rangamati and Khagrachari are not a law and order issue and would need more than investment of security forces to quell the situation. It has to do primarily with the way progress has been made in implementing the CHT Accord. It will be fair to say that in the 12 years of its signing till 2009, which includes more than four years of the AL rule, and the five years of the BNP's, except for some superficial actions, very little worth the mention has been done.

From time to time through this column we have been trying to underscore the dangers if the state did not, or could not, deliver completely and timely on its commitment to the people. And when there is inordinate delay or the main party resorts to subterfuge and excuses in fulfilling the provisos of an agreement disappointment is bound to manifest, and it does so in many forms. We Bengalis tend to forget the position we were in not long ago and what our reaction was to the Pakistan government not living up to its promises.

As for the current spate of violence in the area, there is very little doubt that whatever may be the immediate cause of the recent clashes, the Tribal-Bengali divide, as well as parochial positions on the Accord of different groups, has been exploited by the vested elements with ulterior motives. An unstable CHT perhaps serves their purpose.

What long years of lack of serious action in implementing a pledge does is that it gives time and means to those opposed to it to strengthen their position to derail the plans. And that is what the long 13 years interregnum, between signing of the agreement and now, has done. Those tribal groups opposed to the CHT Accord have got plenty of fodder to depict the non-fulfillment of the agreement, for whatever reasons, as lack of government's honesty in this regard. Likewise, the Bangalees opposed to the accord have been able to garner more support in the last 13 years for their cause.

What we see happening in the CHT is not only disturbing, it also portends sinister development in the area in the future, if not addressed immediately. Everything boils down to the question of why it has not been possible to execute all the points in the accord? What area the difficulties in implementing those and how can the impediments be removed. And in this regard I, for one, find it difficult to doubt the sincerity of a party that penned the accord, in implementing it.

The AL government since its assumption of office in January 2009 has taken substantive measures to start the process of implementation. However, it should be abundantly clear that all the provisions of the accord cannot be fulfilled overnight, like the work of the land commission, and some of the provisions may need a re-look at the constitution. And this is where the government has not been proactive enough, to identify the possible impediments and devise ways to overcome them.

We all have a stake in permanent peace in the hills. It must be admitted that both the parties in the accord have displayed great deal of flexibility in arriving at an understanding. The original demand of self-rule had been toned down by the PCJSS although not to the satisfaction of all the tribal groups; nor have all the clauses of the Accord been acceptable to all the plains people.

However, there are few things that influence positively on the Accord implementation. For one thing, no major political party is opposed to the idea of peace in the CHT, and given that the BNP, in spite of its call to scrap the Accord in 1997, having neither reviewed nor cancelled it during its term of office, has demonstrated its political obligation towards implementing the Accord.

The fact is that all the governments since 1985 had taken initiative for a political solution of the problem, and it just so happened that the regional and international security and geopolitical circumstances worked towards arriving at a compact in 1997. While nobody should claim exclusivity of the credit of the Peace Accord, on the contrary it would be to discredit of all if it were to fall through

One thing must be made abundantly clear to all which is that the solution does not lie in taking up arms, as some tribal student leaders were seen threatening to do recently, or by use of force. And if Mr. Shantu Larma has been threatening to take to the hills, from time to time since 2004, it is only to be expected because it his credibility as a leader that will be at stake if the compact falls through.

And it must be made clear too that is the there is no alternative but to implement the agreement. If there is need for a review, it should only be done with the participation of all the stakeholders. There is more than personal credibility that is at stake.

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psdc (Retd) The author is Editor, Defence and Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.

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