Sunday, January 8, 2012
Since long a lot of development programmes had been undertaken in CHT by many of our development partners. However, more needs to be done to fulfill the needs of the tribal people. And there are significant realities that the state faces, and those are felt by the “loyal soldiers” too. Therefore, this paper will analyse the peace and development issues of CHT and look for newer approaches for a long-lasting peace as the people dream.
The development partners were chosen from the national and international nongovernmental organisations, and their entry was encouraged to ensure inflow of cash into CHT to complement the government’s development initiatives. Millions of dollars were poured into different projects for five to ten years’ development goal. But ironically, the only visible developments in CHT till now are the initiatives taken by the government. Millions of dollars may have been poured in CHT by various development partners but visible effect is yet to be seen or even recognised by the people of CHT.
The development partners have, on the other hand, engaged the elite tribals tactfully to ensure publicity of their development work despite the ambiguous outcomes. A generous outlook was shown to the development partners by the government with the idea that whatever is donated by them will enhance the government’s development efforts. The generosity of the government and the crafty play by the elites in CHT have been able to project these development partners as the real saviours of the tribal people. These partners have been somewhat of an alternative to the government, at least to the elites in CHT. Therefore, the state of peace in CHT is what is perceived by these development partners and echoed by the people of CHT.
Significant progress has been made as regards the creation of local government promised by the Accord despite the fact that it lacks legitimacy under the unitary system of government of Bangladesh. One can question the effectiveness of this local governance due to incomplete authority given to them or lack of proper rules of business for establishing clear co-relation to the other institutions and the traditional feudal character of “local administration.”
Transfer of a number of subjects to this local government has already been done. The constitutional caveats didn’t allow the handover of all the subjects, specifically those related to revenue, which are still controlled by the central government. An accord was signed agreeing to the many demands without considering how those could be applied to two different categories of inhabitants of CHT; it is difficult to provide the constitutional rights to the tribals ignoring the other community. Even before the government could really provide them such rights, legal complications have arisen due to a writ petition submitted in the High Court. Despite the constitutional complications, numbers of constitutional bodies have been formed to facilitate the process of peace, although their effectiveness is under question for different reasons.
If the government claims substantial progress in the implementation of peace, it is theoretically difficult to challenge it. But the perception of the other stakeholders is quite different. The military continues to be in the driving seat to control the overall situation as law enforcing agencies and civil administration have not been developed substantially. The military therefore, doesn’t feel the real progress in peace implementation at the tactical level. The other actors, like the people, media or development partners etc., have a different view of the state of peace in CHT. Because of the fact that these actors have turned more powerful than others, the state of peace portrayed by them appears more credible to the national or international observers.
Removal of Bengalis settled in the ’80s from CHT, withdrawal of the military, conventional management of land by the tribals, and voting rights of Bengalis are the four cardinal issues of CHT. In number they may be only four, but for their complexity they stand unparalleled to a lot that has been already done. Thus, the claims of substantial progress of the government pale into insignificance when juxtaposed with these four issues. And when publicising the lack of progress the aforementioned actors conveniently overlook the complexities of the matter.
The military should not be considered as an occupational force. Regrettably, all benign activities of the military are still labeled as evil by the elites of CHT and the common people believe so unwittingly. The military is working selflessly without any effort to publicise its activities. The fact that the peace effort was initiated by the military and carried through by the politicians has been forgotten due to long lapse of time and also due to the fact that other actors have turned out to be more influential.
Fourteen years and changeover of four democratic governments couldn’t yet deliver what was expected by the people. A complete set-up of local government in the running of the affairs could not be established due to the constitutional provisions. Handover of all the thirty-two subjects prescribed in the Accord is perhaps difficult because of the constitutional stipulation. The latest denial of the government to accept the locals as indigenous people has been seen as an effort to marginalise them. The peace process is blocked and the hearts of the tribal people are broken and the political approach needs a review. The reality is, even the handover of all the subjects will not ensure peace unless the four aforementioned cardinal issues are resolved, which is indeed critical for any government.
The economic approach has also failed to deliver as was projected. The entire gamut of development in CHT as seen is: fifteen hundred kilometers of roads, increase in the number of schools and hospitals, telecommunication and things like that. The youth have no opportunity for jobs, except for a small segment absorbed by the NGOs and IOs. The benefit of the economic approach is again taken by the elites and the ordinary people are left out of it.
A lot of money has been poured into CHT by the IOs and NGOs and people feel that the lion’s share has been pocketed by the elites without any significant development in changing their lives. Major development projects are being undertaken by the government, but cannot be projected properly because a vicious circle has grown to deprive the ordinary people. It is felt, though not expressed by the local people, that the military approach is the better option for development to bring changes in the lives of ordinary people.
The direct military, political or economic approach seems to have failed to ensure peace as per the dream of the general people. Direct approach will perhaps not succeed due to the complexities of the current situation and loss of public trust in them. Leaving it to time to take care of the peace is not the right idea as that will sideline the tribal population and make the non-tribals benefit eventually.
The tribal elites, getting the maximum benefit from all the actors, will keep the problem alive as long as they enjoy the benefits. An alternative method of attaining peace must be looked for so as to sideline the elites and involve the ordinary class in the process. Economic benefits must be ensured for the ordinary people, as well as their participation in different activities. Education at the middle level must be developed and job opportunities should be created for them in CHT.
Employment opportunities will only occur if sufficient power or electricity is ensured to allow the private entrepreneurs to invest. Frequent arrangement of reality shows, sports, theater etc could restore trust of the tribals in the government. The military can be the main partner, having been involved in the situation the longest. They can be the most effective actors to contribute to the process which can restore trust of the people in the military.
Midlevel leadership must be allowed to grow and establish local contact to avoid the rigid and old-fashioned leadership, which impedes instead of facilitates peace. Regional politics must be allowed to grow to add plurality in national politics. Finally, a piloted programme of the land issues can be undertaken to show that success can also be achieved in critical issues that are apparently intractable.
The author is currently commanding an infantry brigade in CHT.
(This is the concluding part of the three-part series.)