The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord were signed 24 years ago with the aim of ending bloody clashes between Bengalis and government forces, and for establishing peace with the tribes and hills of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. After the agreement, it was hoped that the winds of peace would blow in the mountains and the economy would gain momentum. In the last 24 years, this hope has been fulfilled. The way of life of the locals has changed. Various development projects undertaken by the government have changed the economic condition of millions of people living in the area.
Before the agreement, tourists were afraid to go to the hill districts. Tourists are now coming to the mountains without any hesitation as the security situation has improved. In the past, due to the underdeveloped communication system, there was not much speed in trade and commerce, but now that speed has increased several times. Before the accord, the wheel of life was stagnant for two decades. With the signing of the peace treaty, the hill country has returned to its dynamic rhythm. In the contemporary regional and international arena, the successful political end of the CHT problem is considered a rare achievement for our country. For this reason, Sheikh Hasina’s UNESCO award was a recognition of Bangladesh’s unique contribution to peace.
The Awami League government at the time had tried to establish lasting peace in the hill areas, as a result of which there followed a surrender of arms in 1997, which later became known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement or the Peace Accord. The government claims that most of the clauses of the agreement have been implemented.
In the era after the peace agreement, several schools and colleges have been established. Rangamati University of Science and Technology and Rangamati Medical College are the prominent ones. Sajeke in Baghaichhari has been equipped for tourists with two-star quality hotels and a three-star quality tourist complex.
Earlier, fishermen could not fish in Kaptai Lake but now fishermen can fish as they wish. Fishing on Kaptai Lake has multiplied since the peace agreement. Kaptai Lake is playing an important role in the economy. Prior to the agreement, the government did not receive revenue of more than Rs 1 crore from this lake. Now the government is collecting revenue of around 1,000 crore every year. Thousands of families in Rangamati now depend on Kaptai Lake. Crop production has increased in the hills. In the past, most of the crops of Zum would have been ruined on the way, but now there is not much of a search for vehicles on the road, so hill farmers can easily take Zum crops to the market.
The sector that has improved the most since the agreement has been the timber business. Although they did not buy tree gardens in the hills before, now traders are buying tea gardens. The gardeners are benefiting economically. With improvement in every aspect including education, communication and security, overall economic development has taken place in all the districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts including Rangamati. Laxmidhan Chakma. A resident of Rangamati said that government jobs once seemed like golden deer to us. But as a result of the Peace Accord, now the educated and meritorious children of the Hill Tracts are easily getting government jobs. It would never have been possible without the agreement.
After the peace agreement, some incidents of conflict and completion for hegemony among the regional parties did not stop the wheel of the mountain economy. The living standards of the people have improved due to various steps taken by the government after the peace agreement. We can see this by analysing the times before and after the peace agreement. After the Hill Tracts Peace Accord, the hill people were able to trade easily. The general public was intimidated by the obstruction of some regional organisations, but as a result of the peace agreement, the people of the hills are now breathing a sigh of relief. The people here are doing business independently with the cooperation of the administration.
There was stagnation in trade and commerce in the hill country before the Hill Accords. Ordinary people could not move freely. But now that day is no more. Now people are doing business freely. The increase in communication has also given impetus to trade and commerce. The police administration ensures that the people here can perform all their work safety.
Meanwhile, 10 new development projects have been undertaken for the development of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts has sent a proposal to the Planning Commission for inclusion in the Green Leaf in the Annual Development Program (ADP) for the next 2021-22 Fiscal Year. At the same time, allocation has been sought for 19 ongoing projects.
Apart from this, poverty alleviation projects through coffee and cashew nut cultivation in the CHT region and water supply and sanitation management projects in markets and adjoining areas of the Khagrachhari district are also in progress. The Peace Accord also recognised the special status and dignity of the hill people. Under the peace agreement, a regional council comprising local government councils of the three hill districts has been formed. The structure of the Regional Council is as follows: Chairman 1, Member (Indigenous) 12, Member (Indigenous) Female 2, Member (Non-Indigenous) Male 6, Member (Non-Indigenous) Female 1. The agreement calls for the formation of a Ministry of Tribal Affairs to oversee activities related to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, headed by one tribe. If the land ownership rights of the tribes are determined, then their land will be returned. For this purpose, a land survey system will be conducted in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to determine the ownership of land.
Today there are educated young people in every house of the tribal people. With at least one employee per household, Chakmas have an average literacy rate of 96%. The quota system in all jobs including BCS, priority system, a quota system for tribal students in all universities, medical colleges, scholarships in Europe, America, Australia together mean that the development of tribal people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is much better than in any remote region of Bangladesh.
Incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is always striving to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The present government has not undertaken any undemocratic and anti-people initiatives in the hilly areas. After the Awami League government came to power, the chairman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board has been appointed. The formation of the Land Commission and the ‘Minority Cultural Institutions Bill 2010’ has been passed in the National Assembly. In the meantime, everyone has accepted the idea of tribes, minorities, ethnic groups and communities to protect the integrity of the country. We think that supporting and supporting Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to establish peace is essential for development there.
The necessity of implementation of the Hill Tracts Peace Agreement can be seen from the significant examples of successful conduct of various ongoing socio-economic development activities. However, the joint efforts of the hill-Bengalis are needed to uphold the rights of all citizens as enshrined in the peace agreement.
—The writer lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has a Masters’s degree in International Relations from Dhaka University.