Mitul Chakma Bishal
To say as a whole, once again, the state machinery is walking with their agenda of militarization and coercion policy, the direction quite contrary to implementation of the CHT Accord. To speak the truth, we are living in such a country wherein, despite having allegiance to the state integrity and constitution, one is labelled as separatist and terrorist right in own country for talking about one’s rights. In fact, it is unintelligible to me what the definition of terrorism to the state authority is. In recent days, hearing fictitious words of the ministers and bureaucrats, it seems to me that the state feels safe only in unleashing war in the hills as soon as possible. Such belligerent attitude that they nurture exposes the extent they are sincere and effortful in implementing the Accord.
Analysis of the hill political situation prevalent in those days and by now, it appears to be convincing that the hills are not in a good shape at all. The CHT Accord signed 25 years back with expectation of peace, is now in the dark room and the statuesque of which is also despairing. Several high-level government officials just came and held ‘law & order’ meetings with a pomp and also gave lengthy interviews to the media. But notably it was rather hard to trace out the signs concerning restoration of peace in the hills, implementation of the Accord and on political, social, cultural and economic developments of hill residents in their speeches. Each of their statements appeared as if a fountain flow of violence. The words with which they beat around the bush were so hate-oriented that it made the point clear that there left no logical reason of favoring the Jumma people’s staying inside 96,000 square kilometer area of the country, let the right issues remain afar.
GOC Saifuddin Abedin’s statement undoubtedly proved that it is imbued withinfluence of superficial and insufficient knowledge on overwhelming situation of CHT and that his has been a reckless utterance of mere an under qualified military commander. He has miserably failed to understand that the Accord is neither a military truce nor an agreement for economic reconciliation or a socio-cultural treaty either. The CHT Accord is a political accord – an accord that has defined the political rights of the Jumma people. So, the accord has a political characteristic and significance. Therefore, considering the accord based on yard stick of balance of power is meant abject failure in understanding the hill crisis and cherishing the attitude of holding on the crisis.
Relevantly, the GOC of 24 Infantry Division stated in his speech that the JSS did not properly perform its responsibilities. Further he alleged that the JSS did not deposit all its arms and thereby the provisions laid in the accord to that effect have not been implemented.
It may be cited from the Accord that sections – 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 under Part-D contain the bindings that stand: “The PCJSS shall deposit the Statements on Arms & Ammunitions lying under its jurisdiction and control, with the government within 45 days of signing the Accord; and the government and PCJSS shall jointly determine the date, time and venue for the event and all sorts of security shall be provided to the enlisted JSS members to ensure their returning to normal life with their families; to declare General Amnesty for those who will deposit their arms and ammunitions and to withdraw the cases, if any. Besides, to step up legal procedure against those who fail to deposit their arms and ammunition within the given death line.”
It is of worth mentioning, as per provision of the Accord, PCJSS had submitted the Statement of Arms & Ammunitions and the List of its members to the government within the given 45 days and accordingly, also having determined the date, time and venue, altogether 1947 regulars returned to normal life following deposition of arms & ammunitions to the authority. The government paid each of them Taka 50,000/- as per Section-16(a) of the Accord. Besides, the government set 19 members of PCJSS free from the imprisonment. In this regard, the government also admitted that the said sections of the accord have been implemented. But on the other end, the 720 cases that had been filed against the PCJSS members, were though decided to withdraw, have not yet been declared in the government gazette to that effect up till this day.
The GOC further said that peace establishment in the hills is possible by no count while excluding the non-tribal people. According to his version, thinking so is nothing but a thought of building castle in the air. Even stepping further, he made a request to those to recoil back from their demand.
Notable that the written CHT Accord is also supplemented by mutual understanding on several issues that form ‘unwritten part’ of the accord. Under Section-1 of the Accord, it has been recognized that CHT is a tribal-inhabited region and that it states: the tribal inhabited feature of the region shall be preserved. Therefore, for preservation of the tribal-inhabited feature, the issue of non-tribal population becomes prominently significant. As the GOC has admitted that at present the ratio of Hill people and Bengali stands 51:49. If the trend continues to prevail, how the tribal-inhabited feature of the region can be preserved, is beyond our intellectual capacity.Similarly, one of the ‘unwritten mutual understandings’ is the Muslim Bengali families that had been brought and rehabilitated with political motive in 1979, are to be relocated outside CHT with dignity and honor. The PCJSS had persistent efforts and repeatedly made request to the then government to include the issue in the Accord. But the request was not kept and instead, the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured withbig utterance to trust her and accept her words with full confidence.
On the other end, the Section-3 under Part-D of the Accord clearly defines that the term “non-tribal permanent resident” shall refer to him who is not a tribaland he has legal lands in CHT and usually resides under a specific address and to that end, under Sub-section-4 of Part-D, it has been mentioned that the Circle Chief concerned shall determine as to whether any individual is a non-tribal and if so, the community to which he belongs, subject to submission of certificate issued by the concerned Headman/Union Council Chairman/Municipality Chairman and in this regard, with exception to the certificate obtained from the Circle Chief, no individual as a non-tribal, shall be entitled to apply for the post meant for a non-tribal. And one of the pre-conditions for having enlisted in the Electoral Roll in CHT is that the concerned citizen must be a permanent resident of CHT. Thus, the forgoing conditional issues comprise one of the components of ‘safe guard’ that ascertains the preservation of the tribal-inhabited feature in CHT. So, the statement delivered by the GOC of 24 Infantry Division is absolutely conflicting to the Accord and the picture that appears through his statement establishes the fact that the army is in favor of open-ended legalization of the settlers in the hills.
He further said that due to compassion and mercy in the name of ‘Quota’ system, the hill people have become more educated today. Here, I am bound to say that being a high-level government official of an important institution, he does not have even a speck of concept on laws of Bangladesh, the short-coming of which is shameful and disgracing for our country and for all the Bangladeshi people. I intend to make the GOC remember the Part-III titled: Human Rights of which, Section-IV under Para-28 clearly states: ‘…notwithstanding whatever is stated under this para, shall refrain the state from formulation of special regulation in favor of the women and children or for advancement of any backward section of the citizens.
Furthermore, it is also the fact that based on the aforesaid paragraph, despite being governed under the governance system of Single-House Parliament or unitary government, the Bangladesh nation state had entered upon the historical CHT Accord with the PCJSS on 2 December 1997 as to award a sort of ‘Regional Autonomy’ for the Jumma people of CHT within the constitutional frame-work of the country. Alongside, it may also be remembered that section-10 under Part-D of the Accord clearly states: ‘The government shall continue to maintain the ‘tribal quota system’ in cases of higher education and employment until they attain the state equivalent to that of other parts of the country.
So, the tribal people are not enjoying the ‘tribal-quota system’ as a matter of compassion offered on part of the state. Rather, the tribal people are enjoying this facility under the shade of country’s independence, which was earned at the cost of bloodshed of 3 million martyrs and its constitution and by merit of the historical CHT Accord. Therefore, this cannot be a compassion of somebody else but just right of the oppressed and deprived people. And it is undeniable that the people of CHT are backward, legged behind and oppressed and suppressed by all counts. At least, it the constitution of Bangladesh that endorses the truth and the Accord is for that reason. Apart from, for being legged behind in the society, special arrangements in various sectors including employment, political representation and education have been undertaken for the women about which it is mentioned in the constitution. The rights of women are also not the result of somebody’s extended compassion but it is for their basic rights. It has been proved through the speech of GOC that up to what extent one becomes undemocratic, fascist and anti-progressiveness to term the basic human rights as compassion and mercy, as such manner.
As per the CHT Accord, PCJSS has performed what have been defined as obligatory in pen and ink. According to many, it was a blunder on part of the PCJSS to have complied with the obligatory terms and conditions within the given deadline. As because, following deposition of arms and ammunitions and returning all the armed members back to normal life, the government including the army began to betray in phased manner. Though there is a provision to fix up a deadline for complete withdrawal of all the temporary camps soon after returning to normal life, as the government and army did not comply with and so was their betrayal that began with breaching the terms of the Accord.
Had all the arms and ammunition not been deposited and all members not returned back to normal life, as such, the army and government would have given a second thought before going in for treachery. Today, if each of the terms of the Accord had been implemented including withdrawal of all the temporary camps and military rule, there would not have begun armed activities afresh. In fact, it can be concluded undoubtedly that it was the government and army responsible for driving the CHT situation towards armed activities. With a view to covering up their misdeed, the government and army found uttering such delirium against PCJSS from time to time. Really, the countrymen and Jumma people could not but be shocked at such irresponsible statement of the GOC.
On the other hand, the State Minister has developed a habit that bounds him speak out absurd words in delirium, as soon as he lands in the hills. In recent years, his frequent visits on CHT affairs and the statements debarred of ‘head & tail’, he pronounces, really make us thoughtful. As he arrives, he keeps talking only on terrorism and goes back while informing us about expansion of camps, and re-establishment of fresh camps on the abandoned sites, sometimes on deployment of modern police or RAB force. At last, he has inaugurated the APBN Head Quarters on 26 May before leaving. It is beyond doubt that he has breached the terms of the Accord thereby. By all counts, he is a political personality and that too, a veteran politician, the language that comes out from the mouth of a Minister, is utterly ridiculous and seems to be irrational.
It has been clearly mentioned under section-17 of the Accord that – (a) After signing of the Accord by the government and PCJSS and soon after returning of the armed members back to normal civil life, with exceptions to BOPs of BDR (BGB) and permanent army cantonments (of Ruma, Alikadam and Dighinala including the three cantonments in three district headquarters), all other temporary camps of army, Ansar and Village Defense forces shall be withdrawn in phases from CHT and taken back to permanent cantonments and to that end, a deadline shall be determined. In cases of deterioration of law & order situation, natural calamities and other national programs, as it is applied to all other parts of the country, having followed necessary legal procedures, the army may be deployed under the civil administration. In such case, as per need or the time, the competent authority of the CHT Regional Council may be requested for assistance. (b) the lands abandoned by the military or para-military forces camps shall be returned to the actual land owners or handed over to the Hill District Council concerned.
But it is regrettable that the CHT has not yet been freed from the army even after passing more than two decades after signing of the Accord and even no time line has ever been drawn to that effect. From among more than 500 temporary camps, though only 70 camps within 1997 to 1999 and 35 camps within 2009 to 2013 were withdrawn, most of them have been restored again. With this, it is worthy to be recalled that the Home Minister often says about establishing police camps at the army-camp-abandoned sites. As a matter of fact, this kind of move is a straight way breach of the CHT Accord.
There is no provision under any section or sub-section of the Accord mentioning that police camps will be established in the sites abandoned by the army. Rather, the Accord contains a clear provision that the lands abandoned by the army shall be returned to the actual owner or handed over to the Hill District Council concerned. Besides, it is also worthy to be recalled that the Home Minister very often goes saying about deployment of APBN, Modern Police, etc. In factual reality, nowhere that effect has been mentioned in the Accord. Instead, the contains the provision by merit of which the subjects of Police and law & order are to be devolved to the three Hill District Councils and the Sub-Inspector ranking officers and below ranking privates of the Hill Police Force are to be employed by the Council authorities. Accordingly, formation of Hill Police Force with the permanent residents of CHT is agreeable to CHT Accord and lawful.
In accordance with the section of the Accord, it was resolved in the session of CHT Accord Implementation Committee to devolve the Police Subject to the Hill District Councils through issuance of Executive Order. Whereas, defying the resolution adopted in the CHT Accord Implementation Committee meeting, an office order was issued from the Arms Police Battalion Headquarters on 13 April 2022, with a plea of implementing the decisions taken in the 5th session of the CHT Accord Implementation and Monitoring Committee, stated: ‘the police will be deployed in 240 army abandoned camp sites and primarily police will be deployed in 30 camps.’ This audacity is a direct violation of the Accord. Indeed, it has been an authoritarian step of the government against the Accord using the might of state power.
Lastly, GOC Saiful Abedin gave out a war cry calling the hill people for war and fixed up the time for 30 minutes beyond which the hill people would last no more. Even reminding the hill people he warned by informing that ‘todays Bangladesh army remains no more as it has been in 1974 and in 1990s. On the other hand, the IGP Benazir Ahmed made it clear that ‘declaring war against the state is a foolish deed.’ Now, if Benzir’s utterance is held for a truth, taking to rebellion by the people of the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, against Pakistan had been a foolish move. Hence, in most cases, it arises doubt whether the devil spirit of Pakistan is abiding in IGP Benazir Ahmed and GOC Saiful Abedin.
On the other hand, the GOC parted the ‘freedom’ into two from his context. Firstly, freedom from demand and secondly, freedom from fear. But what the Jumma people of CHT want, is freedom from political slavery. They want the right to control them by themselves. They want to lead a life with distinguishable characteristics, culture, national identity and dignity of self within the sovereignty of Bangladesh. On attaining political freedom, there will be no trace of demand or insecurity. We want to live as we like to live within the territorial jurisdiction of Bangladesh and along with 18 crores of people. Our version is we, the hill people, are peace loving humans. As we want peace, we want to live freely with uniqueness and identity. Even we want to make the point clear that we do not want war. We know, war cannot solve out the problem – we know this truth and understand it. The statement of GOC proves that they have not yet been able to accept us as their own.
The CHT crisis is a political problem but the state machinery though admits the truth in papers, yet is reluctant to admit it with intellect and by heart. In practice, we find no good will gesture among the state machinery in solving the CHT crisis – the trend that will never bring in auspicious outcome in near future for the whole country. We have never been in favor of war; we have always been against war and as we were in favor of peace and are right now. But it is the state that has all along imposed unjust war upon us – the entire hill people and right now, the state is all set to impose unjust war upon us. But paradoxically, the hill people, with patience and endurance all along, have been striving to solve the hill crisis by political means. But at this juncture, if the state compels the hill people once again, as such, the state should keep in mind that the hill people, too, are no more at the stage as they were in those days of 1973. The hill people are not separatists for, we have never uttered to split away from Bangladesh. Rather, we dream for leading a life within the framework of Bangladesh nation state.
As we know, the war is divided into two. One is just war and the other is unjust war. We stand for the just war. The CHT hill people are the heroes as they stand by the just war and that the ultimate victory will be ours.