Proxy War of the Army in CHT

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Mongkew Marma

Generally, proxy war refers to violent battles between two countries or sides – the war in which neither of the sides is directly involved but yet continues to direct war through using the third party. The Bangladesh army is also not an exception to such proxy war being led against implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord and also the organization and people waging movement for implementation of the Accord. In this theatre of proxy war, since the very beginning, the armed terrorist groups belonging to the Prasit-Rabi Shankar-led UPDF, Reformist JSS, UPDF (Democratic), Mog Party, Bawm Party, etc. have been playing the role of hired forces of the army.

Needless to say, the historic CHT Accord was signed between Bangladesh government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) upon consent of the three forces including the army in 1997. As though commitment for establishment of political, administrative, economic, social, cultural and land rights of the Jumma people as well as the permanent residents of CHT was assured through signing of the Accord, yet the army and government have moved away from the commitment after signing of the Accord. Consequently, though many aspects of the Accord were implemented, yet the army and government tactfully maintain desistance from implementing the core issues of the Accord and putting the provisions relating to the self-rule to effect. As though the insurgency came to an end through the Accord, the Sheikh Hasina government promulgated de facto military rule named ‘Operation Uttoron’ (Operation Upliftment) in 2001 and handed over the CHT region to the army through this military decree. Hence, it is by merit of “Operation Uttoron” the army and DGFI have been regulating all the sectors of CHT including the general administration, law & order, judiciary and development.

The government has not only moved away from the implementation process of the Accord, with that the army while trampling down the CHT Accord, continues to take up one after another conspiring programs that stand counter to the Accord and interest of the Jumma people and has been executing the blue print of ethnic cleansing of the Jumma people through encirclement using all possible means. Of them, at one end, creating one after another armed terrorist groups with the fellows who are opportunists, power monger, anti-social and handymen from among the Jumma people and incite them against the Accord implementation process and the Jumma people who are engaged in the movement for implementation of the Accord; and on the other end, bringing the Muslim Bengali settlers under the banner of Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad (PCNP) (CHT Citizens Council) – a sole organization of the Muslim Bengali settlers, so as to provoke the fundamental and communal groups to obstruct the implementation process of the Accord.

It is worthy to be mentioned that Bangladesh Army, in their United Nation Peacekeeping Missions, is playing admirable role in maintaining peace and protecting human rights in the conflict-thorn regions of various countries. But inside Bangladesh, it is the same army that has been violating the human rights upon the indigenous Jumma people and obstructing implementation process of the Accord and establishing peace in the region the matter of which has reflected in the researches of independent researcher, organizations and institutions including the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). In light of that context, recommendations for screening of human rights records of the Bangladesh army personnel before posting them in UN Peacekeeping Missions, were made with the then Working Group on Indigenous Populations under then UN Human Rights Commission in 2000 and the UNPFII during its 10th session held in 2011.

It is for the purpose of ensuring that the image of Bangladesh army does not get affected internationally; that no interruptions take place in participating the UN Peacekeeping missions; and above all, so that their counter-productive role against the Accord and interest of the Jumma people does not get unveiled; the army created armed terrorist groups from among the Jumma people and continues to use them against the on-going movement and the PCJSS, the leading organization.

No sooner signing of the CHT Accord in 1997, the government and army unleashed the Proxy War, firstly, by employing the UPDF led by Prasit and Rabi Shankar. By then, the UPDF armed group used to be sheltered at the points adjacent to the army camps stationed at different locations and those terrorist groups were facilitated in carrying out unabated killing, kidnapping, collection of ransom, extortion, etc. terrorist activities upon the PCJSS members and supporters. As though moving under the eye sight of security forces at broad day light, no action would have taken against the UPDF armed terrorists. Rare was the day that would pass without attacks upon the houses of PCJSS members and supporters or no kidnapping done by the UPDF armed terrorists. The record reveals: by then, more than 300 persons including more than hundred members and supporters of the PCJSS who returned to normal life as per the Accord, were killed by UPDF under indulgence and connivance of the army and state machineries.

On the other hand, the army continued to spread ill propagation stating: still there are armed terrorists in CHT and hence, the presence of army in the region is necessary. Propagation at home and in abroad continued: if all the temporary camps were withdrawn, the sovereignty and integrity of the country would have landed in threatening. Along with, the army had an effort to color the proxy war as an internal and fratricidal conflicts among the Jumma people, thereby imposing the responsibility of their misdeed upon the Jumma people, specifically, the PCJSS. Thus, how the army and government promoted the proxy war through which they had an ill effort to direct their conspiring programs counter-productive to the Accord and interest of the Jumma people towards different course.

Following the incident of 1/11, the army-imposed proxy war gained a fresh push up as the ‘State of Emergency’ was declared in 2007. The martial law authority raised the voice for political reformation throughout the country, for instance, working with the ‘minus two formula’ (to exclude Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia) in the country while applying the ‘minus one formula (exclusion of Santu Larma) in CHT. At one end, there went on intimidation by getting entangled in false cases and sending to jail while provoking a few PCJSS members who were ideologically off the track, power hungers and opportunists, against Santu Larma’s leadership and that way they continued to fuelling the conspiracy of groupism inside the party by alluring them to award the posts of Chairmanship and membership in CHT Regional Council and Hill District Councils. Consequently, at certain state, with the support and sponsorship of the army, an armed terrorist group named Reformist JSS came into existence under the leadership of Tatindra, Sudhasindhu and Rupayan.

Taking the advantage of state of emergency, the army deployed the UPDF armed terrorist group at Jurachhari, Bilaichhari and Rajasthali of Rangamati Hill district, with full security and boarded in army vehicles. By then, the terrorist activities of UPDF armed units gave rise to a situation overwhelmed with chaos and anarchism in several areas of three hill districts. At certain phase, the army incited the both UPDF and Reformist JSS terrorist groups jointly to proxy war against the PCJSS, which was waging democratic movement demanding full and proper implementation of the Accord. The common masses living in several areas of Rangamati and Khagrachari hill districts became hostages due to proxy war of UPDF and Reformist JSS armed terrorists patronized by the army. One of such instances is the mass kidnapping of 62 PCJSS members at gun point by the UPDF terrorists at Kattoli Lake areas of Longadu Upazila in 2013 – the incident that made the Jumma people totally stunned.

In this backdrop, at certain stage in 2014, a fervent call was given to the UPDF and Reformist JSS requesting to recoil back from the army-provoked proxy war and for the greater interest of the Jumma people, to join the PCJSS-led movement for implementation of the Accord as well as movement for the right to self-determination. As both the groups came forward in response to PCJSS call, a good number of talks were held separately between PCJSS and both the groups. This resulted in the gradual declination of the gravity of the army-imposed proxy war from 2014 to 2017 and the right-loving ordinary masses breathed a sigh of relief.

However, the pause in the proxy war ceased the sleep to exist among the ranks of army authority. The army became die hard in their actions to find out the means and ways as to how the proxy war could be reactivated afresh. At some point, the army was able to befool the Reformist leader Tatendra Chakma to step on their laid trap. With Tatendra’s help, another one terrorist group was created with the inactive and expelled members of UPDF under an army-sponsored new organization named UPDF (Democratic) led by Tapan Jyoti Chakma and Shyamal Kanti Chakma Jolaiya. With this move, the proxy war got intensified. Now, the proxy war broke out involving the three groups, namely, UPDF, UPDF (Democratic) and Reformist JSS and at the very start, within two days the proxy war claimed 7 lives including Tapan Jyoti Chakma, the founder President of UPDF (Democratic) and Shaktiman Chakma, one of the Reformist JSS leaders and also Chairman of Nanyachar Upazila Parishad. Thus, the proxy war, which was paused at the PCJSS initiative, began to burn inflames once again. At certain point, the Prasit-Rabi Shankar-led UPDF, for preventing the people from going to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s mass gathering in Khagrachari, got splashed off from blessings of the army. Afterwards, with multi-faceted support and assistance of the army, the terrorist activities of Reformist JSS and UPDF (Democratic) gradually became irresistible.

Before 11th National Parliamentary Election held in 2018, with a view to held back the PCJSS candidate from winning, the army, in association with the ruling Awami League local leadership brought an armed terrorist group from Bandarban Sadar and Rowangchhari Upazila and deployed in Rajasthali Upazila of Rangamati Hill District. This armed terrorist group was organized with the off-shoots from the foreign-origin “Arakan Liberation Party” (ALP) under an organization named Marma Liberation Party (MLP), which is widely known as Mog Party. With the Mog Party, the army had the debut of Proxy war, which is still running in the areas of Rajasthali, Kaptai, Bandarban Sadar and Rowangchari upazilas. Through the Mog Party terrorist group stationed at the government Primary school building of Powaitu Para under Gaindya Union of Rajasthali Upazila, the army is conducting the proxy war against the PCJSS activists and supporters. It is in the broad day light, the army arranged military training for the Mog Party terrorists right in the school ground. Another one open instance of sheltering and nurturing the Mog Party terrorists was the sheltering of its 25-member armed terrorists at Ujani Para government school building for a night halt arranged by the Bandarban army Brigade in September 2022. The Mog Party terrorists killed at least 40 innocent villagers including the PCJSS members so far.

The last armed terrorist group that was formed for proxy war by the army is the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) widely known as Bawm Party. The Bawm Party has a background story of its becoming. In 2008, at the initiative of the then Brigade Commander of Bandarban, firstly, Kuki-Chin National Development Organization (KNDO) was formed under leadership of Nathan Bawm and Vangchunglian Bawm. Later on, the organization was renamed as Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in 2016 and the organization was incited to carryout armed activities against the implementation of the CHT Accord. The organization has though raised the demand of statehood with 9 Upazilas of Bandarban and Rangamati districts, as per the army agenda, the main objective of Bawm Party is to oppose the CHT Accord and destroy PCJSS, the signatory of the Accord. It is for this reason, the Bawm Party began to term the CHT Accord as ‘Chakma Accord,’ the CHT Regional Council as the ‘Chakma Council’ and the PCJSS as the ‘Chakma Party.’ No sooner the Bawm Party began armed activities, confined its activities to attack and eviction of the PCJSS villagers of Rowangchari and Ruma Upazila under Bandarban district. Thus, how the army had its debut Proxy War in Bandarban district by inciting the Bawm Party against PCJSS.

One of the brutal incidents committed by the Bawm Party with the support of army was the incident taken place in June 2022 in which 3 villagers of Tripura community were killed while 2 children were wounded in sporadic spray of fire at Saizam Para of Borthali Union under Bilaichhari Upazila. Soon after the incident, the Bawm Party forcibly evicted at least 100 families belonging to Tanchangya and Tripura communities from their lands and homesteads.

Afterwards, in 2020, the Bawm Party entered upon an agreement to accommodate the Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharquiya, an Islamic Militant group at its KTC camp adjacent to Siloupi Para of Remakri Prangsa Union under Ruma Upazila, to provide shelter and military training in exchange of money. The Bawm Party went ahead with providing shelter and military training to the Islamic militant group as per the agreement signed between the two sides – the program, as a whole, went on at the connivance and concealed support of the army. Later on, when the incident got published in the mass media, the army and government obliged to launch combing operation against the said Islamic organization and militant shelter provider KNF.

At the initial stage of combing operation, as though the den/hideout was surrounded, but the operation party tactfully helped the KNF terrorists and Islamic militants flee away from the encirclement. As a result of combing operation, though many Islamic militants fleeing to the plains were caught by army, RAB and CTTC forces, yet the leaders of KNF and Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharquiya remain out of arrest. It is learnt that a dozen of Islamic militant members including their leaders of Jamaatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharquiya are staying at Bawm Party’s KTC camp near the Siloupi Para. It is learnt that the Bawm Party has not yet coiled back from their program of providing shelter and training to the Islamic militants.

On the other end, the UPDF once got detached from army blessing began to repair their rapport afresh from 2020. To that end, a secret meeting between the UPDF representatives led by Ujjal Smriti Chakma and Sachib Chakma, and the army authority was held at Khagrachari Brigade Headquarters on 27 April 2021. After this, relationship with the army got revitalized. Afterwards, the UPDF authority handed over a bunch of so-called charter of demands to their negotiator to submit to the government on 9 June 2022. Following this, with support of the army, the UPDF armed members began to attack the supporters of the CHT Accord on 11 June 2022. In this way, the army resumed the proxy war in Kachalong, Maini Reserve and Panchari areas again the trend of which still continues.

In fact, under government indulgence, the army at one end has been carrying out proxy war by patronizing and nurturing the armed terrorist groups while in the name of dealing with the terrorists, carrying out suppressive atrocities upon the Jumma people including the PCJSS and holding the PCJSS responsible for the terrorist activities. On last 26 May 2022, while delivering speech on inaugural ceremony of Regional APBN Office in Rangamati, bringing imaginary allegation of extortion and armed activities, Major General Saiful Abedin, the then GOC of 24 Infantry Division, call upon the Jumma people engaged in the movement for implementation of the Accord for a frontal battle with threatening to abolish them within 30 minutes.

The proxy war does not only confine to usage of the domesticated armed terrorist groups, the proxy war also includes the opportunist, power hunger and flatterer categories of Jumma fellows involved in national political parties including the ruling party Awami League, For the sake of their vested interest, the army have recently aggravated its divisive provocation on communal line, instead of taking measures for mitigation of such trend. As part of the same, the army in league with DGFI, the intelligence agency of security forces, have organized the Bengali settlers under single communal organization named Parbatya Chattagram Nagorik Parishad (PCNP), is inciting them to carry out anti-Accord activities, illegal land occupation, communal attacks, etc. upon the Jumma people. One of such events is the calling of 36-hour strike on 7 September 2022 intending to null the meeting called by the CHT Land Dispute Resolution Commission. During this time, the administration, army and the law & order forces, instead of undertaking preventive measures, were seen providing assistance to the settlers picketing and erecting obstacles in the street. The chronological record reveals that the post-Accord period witnessed 20 fatal communal attacks were carried out upon the Jumma people by the Muslim Bengali settlers with direct support and assistance of the army and local leadership of the ruling party.

Needless to say, the implementation process of the CHT Accord was put to stop since 2014. In place of peaceful and political solution through implementation of the Accord, the present government likewise the preceding dictatorial rulers, has been following the fascist policy by expanding wide-scale militarization and intensifying suppressive measures. Consequently, as it had been during pre-Accord period, the situation of CHT has now become more complicated and conflicting. The government in orchestration with the army and state machineries has been making ill effort to criminalize the movement of Jumma people led by PCJSS for implementation of the Accord and thereby to ascertain the right to self-determination, as ‘terrorist’, ‘separatist’ and ‘extortion’ activities. As a result, the inhuman and unlawful practices that have become a regular feature include: arbitray arrest, sending to jail by entangling in fabricated cases, re-arresting the persons coming out on bail right at the jail gate on fresh cases, extra-judicial killing in the name of cross-fire, detention in the camps and meting out torture, searching houses at wee hours and intimidation, violance against women, etc.

It may be mentioned that in a proxy war there exists a long-term relationship between the two warring sides and the third party and usually, the relationship takes the form of financial, military training, arms and logistical support to keep the war lively. Similarly, also the army has been providing financial and logistic support to the Reformist, two factions of UPDF, Mog Party and the Bawm Party and that the proxy war in CHT continues to exist unabatedly. The case with Ruma and Rowangchari, the proxy war is being conducted by providing financial and logistic support to the Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) groups to fight against the Bawm Party and Islamic militants. On the other hand, the proxy war against the on-going movement for implementation of the Accord has been kept going through deploying the Reformist, two UPDF factions and Mog Party groups as the hired pocket army.

However, the army-sponsored proxy war may create a temporal interruption in the movement for CHT Accord implementation as well as the right to self-determination, but ultimately, the proxy war will inevitably turn out as a boomerang to the army and government. Meanwhile, the Bawm Party has become a boomerang issue to the army and government. In fact, the CHT crisis is a political and national problem. Hence, it deserves to be solved by political means at the national initiative without which it does not have any alternative. A chronic political crisis can never be solved through a proxy war. Hence, in this case, having abandoned the policy of seeking solution through proxy war aside, the army and government will have to pace forward to solve out the CHT problem by peaceful and political means through full, proper and speedy implementation of the CHT Accord. It can be said undoubtedly that only then it will bring in auspicious fruition to the greater interest of the country.