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Pakistani Gwadar Port: A double-edged sword for Iran

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GwadarPort

Authors: Vahid Pourtajrishi & Elaheh Shirvani

Gwadar port is located in the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan and on the coast of Arabian Sea. The port’s plan was first established in 1954 when it was owned by the Oman’s kingdom. The distance between Gwadar and Karachi, the main commercial city of Pakistan, is 533 km and the distance to Iran’s border is 120 km. After 200 years of Oman’s Kingdom governance over Gwadar Port, by US mediation in the negotiations between Pakistan and Oman, finally this port was sold to Islamabad on 8th Dec. 1958 at the price of 3 million dollars.

The initiary plans for the development of Gwadar was first introduced in 1992 but due to lack of resources on one hand and international sanctions against Islamabad for examining atomic bomb on the other, the plan did not become operational. Finally by the agreements that were reached between Pakistan and China and China’s investment in this project, the first phase of the development plan started to be studied and constructed in 2002. In 2007 the construction of the first phase was completed and on 15th March 2008 Gwadar Port was launched by the entrance of a 70000 ton cargo. (www.psagwadar.com.pk)

The new plans for developing Gwadar were first proposed by the Prime Minister Parviz Mosharaf in 2007 (New York Times, Jan 2013).
Gwadar Port’s Construction Trends:
In fact construction of Gwadar is divided into two separate phases which are as follows:

Phase I (2002-2006)
As it was mentioned earlier, the first phase of this project was first introduced in 2002 and was completed in 2006 by the cost of 248 million dollars. The measures which were taken in the first phase are as follows (the official website of Gwadar Port www.gwadarport.gov.pk):
•    Docks: construction of 3 multi-purpose docks with the capacity of commercial ships of 30000 tons
•    Length of dock: 6.2 m
•    Dimensions of the port’s entrance channel: 4.5 km length, 12.5 m depth
•    Turn-round tank: 450 m
•    Repair dock: a dock with the length of 100 m
•    The required infrastructure equipment in the port including staff boat, hauler, researching ships and etc.
But as we are aware, development of Gwadar Port goes back to the financial agreement which was signed between china and Pakistan (CPEC) in 2015. At the time of signing the contract, China guaranteed to invest 1.62 billion dollars for the construction and development of this port based on BOT contract (China Daily News Paper, July 2016). The goal of this project was connecting Pakistan to western China.

The two countries plans for development and construction of phase II are:
•    Construction of 2 container docks along 3.2 km of Gwadar coast
•    Construction of 1 bulk cargo terminal
•    Construction of 1 grain special terminal
•    Construction of 1 Ro-Ro terminal
•    Construction of 2 oil terminals
•    Port’s entrance channel: the depth of channel will be increased to 14.5 m
•    Construction of a four-lane highway to connect Gwadar Port to Makran Coastal Hwy
•    Construction of a new airport
•    Construction of a gas terminal with a capacity of storing 500 million cube meters daily (for storage of the transported gas from Iran based on peace pipeline contract)
•    Construction of special economic zone with the area of 2292 hectares
•    Construction of water desalination center
•    Construction of 360 MW power plant for electricity production with fossil fuel

Future plans estimated in phase II:
•    Increasing port’s entrance channel to 20 m
•    Constructing150 docks by the year 2045
•    Increasing cargo arrival and departure capacity up to 400 million tons per year

But what draws the attention of each and every expert in the field of international transport is the reason behind Chinese investment in this new port and investigating the future of rival neighboring ports such as Chabahar Port in Iran.

1)    China’s One belt-One road Policy:
As we know, one belt-one road Policy was introduced by China’s president Shi Jen Ping. The new Silk Road or one belt-one road plan is an investment plan in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries of the world and development of two commercial routes of “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road” which were introduced by China in 2013. This plan plus China’s military power can lead to China’s hegemony in East Asia and turn this country into a super power (Monthly Review, Jan 2017). “Silk Road Economic Belt” links the traditional Silk Road to Europe through Central Asia, Russia and Middle East. “Maritime Silk Road” connects China to southeast of Asia and Africa via the sea. The reason behind introducing these two plans was that China’s economy including the development of the local economy infrastructure and exporting goods to the developing countries was not as effective as before. Furthermore, western economies have encountered recession and there was a decrease in returning of the local investment due to the industrial production surplus in China. Therefore the mail goal of the plans was to strengthen Chinese economy and turn the Chinese manufacturing companies into international companies which operate to develop the infrastructure in different countries under the brand “one belt-one road”. China has specifically designated 65 countries as the targets of infrastructure investments.
In order to develop goods and energy transport in Moscow highway to Kazan in Russia, Beijing is seeking investments to launch projects such as Kazakh Railway from Khorgas to Aktau Port on the bank of Caspian Sea, some pipelines from Turkmenistan to China, China-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan railway, Trans-Asia railway from China to Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia, Silk Road railway from China to Iran (via Kazakhstan) and China-Pakistan highway (Financial Times, 14th Sep, 2015).

2)    One belt-one path, Chinese Version of US’s TPP
By the time that Donald Trump was elected as the president of US in 2017, most of Obama’s adventurous goals and ambitions regarding a liberal economy and international trade reached to an end. One of the international accords of US during Obama’s government was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Most of the opponents of this accord believe that accords such as TPP will do nothing for US except extensive costs.
In fact one belt-one rath is a substitute for Obama’s unsuccessful TPP which is proposed by Beijing this time.

3)    Gwadar Port and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is considered as one of Beijing’s solutions for achieving one belt-one road policy and confronting the difficulties of passing through Indian Ocean without India’s disturbance as the most important regional rival of China. Providing the requirements for one belt-one road project will be burdensome and costly. The initiary investment for CPE was estimated about 46 billion dollars by China but later this amount was increased to 54 billion dollars. As estimated by Pakistan, the worn-out transport network of this country results in wasting almost 3.5% of Pakistan’s GDP. As the framework of this project, new networks of transport will be built which will connect Gwadar and Karachi ports to northern Pakistan, Western China and Central Asia. Based on the statistics given by Chinese experts, modernizing the mentioned transport network will cost 11 billion dollars, make 2.3 million job opportunities between the years 2015-2030 and increase the country’s economic growth by 2-2.5% annually. Based on what was mentioned earlier, CPEC is considered as China’s main plan for achieving the required technical and economic infrastructures in Pakistan.

4)    Chabahar Port
In fact Chabahar International Port is the most important project of Gwadar port which is considered as one of the main competitions between Iran and Pakistan. Chabahar port at a glance:
1.    Entrance to Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean which consists of a sensitive and suitable geographical location
2.    The only ocean port in Iran
3.    Consists of more than 541 km maritime border
4.    The least land distance to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Transit of goods via this port is considered as the most economical port with the least transportation cost
Chabahar and International Transit of Goods
Chabahar port is the intersection of two important corridors; North-South and East-West corridor. In the recent measures taken by Pakistan’s government, Makran’s Coastal Highway was established in South of Pakistan which links Karachi port in Pakistan to Gwadar and then to Rimadan Border Market in Chabahar (Iran).
Chabaahr-Zahedan-Mashhad Railway Project, 1350 km
Chabaahr-Zahedan Railway is located in Sistan and Baluchestan province in Southeast of Iran. This railway connects Chabahar Port to the city of Zahedan and then Mashhad. Currently the speed limit is estimated to be 120 km/h for passenger trains and this number is 90 km/h for freight trains.
Based on the estimations, 300000 passengers and 1.3 million tons of freight will be carried by this railway in the first year of its operation and these numbers will be increased to 500000 passengers and 35 million tons of freight by the twentieth year.
Technical Specifications of the Project:
–    Maximum gradient of the route: 15 in 1000
–    Minimum radius within curve: 1000 meter
–    Number of specific tunnels: 17
–    Total length of tunnels: 11000 meter
–    Number of tunnels: 20
–    Number of stations: 5 main stations and 25 grade III stations
Based on the contract between Iran and India, New Delhi has undertaken to invest 500 million dollars for developing and launching Chabahar port based on BOT contract.
Lack of required rail infrastructure is the main difficulty of Chabahar port to transport the cargo to Afghanistan. Due to this reason the cargo needs to pass through Pakistan by road which decreases the competitiveness of Chabahar port since this will become a permanent challenge for the customers in long term. To transport freight from Chabahar to Herat in Afghanistan, 1784 km of rail is needed which is way less than Gwadaar-Karachi-Afghanistan route.

5)    The Role of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Based on Chabahar’s project development plan, this port has been linked to the transit routes of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan Republic via rail and in fact Chabahar links to the North-South Corridor at Bafgh intersection.
–    According to China’s strong support of the construction and development of Gwadar port, the future of Chabahar is completely dependent on its construction speed.
–    On the other hand, Kabol and Afghanistan do not fulfill their duties to RAI. Afghanistan is the only country which benefits from both Chabahar and Gwadar projects since linking to these two ports can solve Afghanistan’s geo-economic problems for connecting to international waters.
–    Attempting to rehabilitate Pakistan’s worn-out lines and linking it to Zahedan is considered important since in this way Afghanistan’s attempts to become the rail transit path between Pakistan, Central Asia and Turkey will remain unfruitful.
–    Another treat for Gwadar port project in one road-one path framework is China and Pakistan’s attempt to connect to Europe via the Caspian Sea.
Based on UIC reports, there are a total of 7 routes for connecting China to Europe. Due to inappropriate consition of the infrastructure along the route and the need for development, the travelling time for China to Europe via Tehran cannot be estimated.

Hurry up Iran!
Based on what was mentioned before, what is obvious is that the time factor plays an important role in making Iran as the key to access Poland as the main Europe transit hub. Iran needs to act faster in launching and strengthening all the corridors passing through the territory of Iran. Iran needs to put India under pressure by emphasizing the threats made by India’s rivals, i.e. China and Pakistan, to complete the project in the shortest time possible.
Another measure proposed to Tehran for confronting with the negative impacts of Gwadar port on the rail transit through south of Iran is to launch ITI corridor which is a win-win project for China and Iran since by putting Islam Abad-Zahedan route into operation, at least some parts of China’s exported goods to Europe can be transported through Iran to Turkey instead of being transported via the insecure route of Afghanistan. ITI corridor is way less expensive than the corridor passing through Caspian Sea. This is an opportunity for Iran to attempt to activate ITI corridor before China launches Afghanistan’s route.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

Vahid Pourtajrishi is an expert at planning unit of the department of the international affairs of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has worked as journalist at correspondent of Mehr News Agency.

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South Asia

Growing insecurity in Rohingya Refugee Camps: A Threat to South Asian Security?

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A young Rohingya girl holds her brother outside a youth club in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

5 years have passed since the Rohingya refugee influx in August, 2017.  Bangladesh is currently hosting 1.2 million Rohingya refugees in 34 camps in its southern district of Cox’s Bazar. The increasing rate of trans-border crime in those bordering camps is not only making the Rohingya refugees vulnerable and prone to crimes but also threatening South Asian security as a whole. The Rohingya community leader’s speech of “We don’t want to stay in the camps. It’s hell.” in the ‘Go Home’ campaign in 20th June, 2022, made us rethink about the security situation in the camps and how the safety and security of Rohingya refugees is linked to South Asian Security.

Security Situation inside the Rohingya Camps

More than 1,200,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in the camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. While Bangladesh has the ninth-highest population density in the world, around 40,000 to 70,000 refugees are living in per square kilometre in the Rohingya camps, which is 40 times higher than the average population density in Bangladesh. With no sign of repatriation combined with the lack of economic alternatives for Rohingyas and the difficulty in maintaining law and order in overcrowded camps, frustrated Rohingyas are increasingly becoming involved in criminal activities or being targeted by criminal groups.

Currently, around 14 armed criminal gangs are operating in the camps, in which seven gangs known as Hakim Bahini, Hasan Bahini, Sadeq Bahini, Nurul Alam Bahini, Nur Mohammad Bahini and Hamid Bahini are in Teknaf and seven gangs named Munna Bahini, Asad Bahini, Jamal Bahini, Manu Bahini, Rahim Bahini, Kamal Bahini, and Giyas Bahini are active in Ukhiya camps.

According to law enforcement agencies at least 10 groups among these are engaged in 12 types of crimes including murder, rape, kidnapping, drug smuggling and human trafficking. The fighting over controlling the camps among the armed gangs is also deteriorating the security situation inside the camps. A Rohingya refugee in the camps said in an interview, “Everything seems calm in daytime. After sunset, the situation becomes fully different.” As there is no police or army surveillance from 4 pm to 8 am, camps come under the control of gangs at night. They are equipped with weapons like lead meat choppers, knives and other made weapons.

According to Prothom Alo report citing the police, in the last two and half years, more than 50 Rohingyas have been killed in clashes between Rohingya armed gangs over establishing supremacy in the camp area, drugs and gold smuggling, money laundering and extortion.  Recently, the Armed Police Battalion (APBn) has recovered M16 assault rifles with 491 bullets from a camp in Ukhiya which indicates the worsening security situation in the camps. At night Rohingya women are also taken from their houses & are return in the morning. At least 59 women have been raped in the Rohingya camp. As crimes often go unpunished, no one in the camps has the courage to speak against the criminals. Sometimes, for ensuring own security, Rohingyas themselves, including children become engaged with smuggling, narcotics trafficking and other crimes.

As of May 2022,a total of 12,97 cases have been filed against 3,023 Rohingyas. Among them, 73 cases are in charge of murder, 762 are narcotics cases, 28 cases are filed on the allegation of human trafficking, 87 for illegal weapons, 65 are rape charges, 35 for kidnapping and ransom, 10 for robberies, and 89 are other cases related to crime and violence.

Besides, it is believed that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya insurgent group are also active in Rohingya camps and made contract with a Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). ARSA is not only relying on arms like AK-47s, M-22s, M-21s and M-16 rifles but also gaining support through other means. More than 500 madrassas in the Rohingya camps are  said to be controlled by an ARSA affiliates which will help ARSA to gain sympathy, spread propaganda and extend their network.

A Threat to South Asian Security

Since Cox’s Bazar provides a strategic route for smuggling and a shelter to Rohingyas refugees who have lack of economic alternatives, the bordering Rohingyas camps are turning into a breeding place for criminalities and the insecurity in the camps can threaten the security of the whole region.

Cox’s Bazar is used as a direct route from eastern India to Nepal for arms smugglers to reach Indian and Nepali buyer. United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), an insurgent group seeking independence from India, also buys arms from China and smuggles them using Bangladeshi ports and overland to India.

The Naaf river, the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, is also the busiest drug route in the region. Almost 80% of Yaba enter in Bangladesh through Naikhyangchhari and 70% of them are stored in Rohingya camps before distributing them and Rohingyas are increasingly getting involved in peddling yaba for their survival.

Besides, drug trafficking, Rohingyas are also taking part in trans-border crimes, including human trafficking, extremism, arms fighting and the camps can be a potential base for extremist activities and the insecurity in the camps and border could transcend to Bangladesh anytime and create insecurity for the whole region of South Asia. As there is a growing concern over the recruitment of refugees by the extremist networks like Hizb-ut Tahrir and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), as well as by radical Islamist groups like HeI. It is also reported that the influence of HeI is growing among the traumatized and frustrated Rohingyas which could fuel militancy not only in Bangladesh but also across the South Asian region. Along with this, the Rohingya militant groups bordering Myanmar i.e.  Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), Rohingya National Alliance (RNA), the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF), and Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) could also recruit from Rohingyas and threaten regional security.

From security perspective, ensuring the security of Rohingyas is directly linked to the security of the region Though Bangladesh has taken several measures to ensure the security of these displaced people, it is tough to maintain law and order in the densely populated camps near the border. Therefore, safe, sustainable and dignified return of these displaced people is the only solution. Since Rohingya refugees have also expressed their desire to go home through the “Go Home” campaign, in which thousands of Rohingyas in Ukhiya & Teknaf camps staged demonstration on World Refugee Day demanding their repatriation back to Myanmar. Bangladesh as well as the international community should act together to facilitate Rohingya repatriation to ensure the security of Rohingyas as well as the South Asian region before its too late.

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Rohingya repatriation between Myanmar-Bangladesh

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Rohingya refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Myanmar (file photo). IOM/Mohammed

Refugees find themselves in a situation of limbo because of the prolonged refugee scenario. They are neither eligible for repatriation nor do they qualify as citizens of the host nation or a third country. However, they must deal with the harsh reality of the nature of vicious politics because of the complexity of state systems and the institutional weaknesses of international institutions.

Prolonged refugees, according to UNHCR (2004), are trapped in an impenetrable and protracted condition of limbo. Despite not being in danger or facing threats, they significantly lack access to basic rights, financial aid, and support for their psychological and social needs. As they are pushed toward outside help, they feel unable to escape the core of forced dependence.

Are Rohingya refugees in some way contributing to an ongoing, serious refugee crisis? In relation to the Rohingya crisis, statistics from UNHCR shows that more than 0.7 million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017. There are 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the prime minister of Bangladesh stated in 2018 during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly.

For this South Asian emerging nation in 2017, the flow of this deluge was nothing new. These migrants have been entering Bangladesh since the 1970s after being forcibly uprooted by the military dictatorship.

According to a survey, there were around 0.25 million refugees in Bangladesh throughout the 1990s. Nearly 0.02 million people were returned after the 2000s, but the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) and the Bangladeshi government’s inability to settle their differences has made this process difficult to complete.

The world’s most persecuted minority, who is clearly stateless and has strong proof of persecution and genocide on account of race, ethnicity, and religion, is currently being cared for by Bangladesh. The responses of international organizations like the UN and its branches like the ICJ and IOM are not positive enough for Bangladesh in this regard to produce a permanent solution.

West African nation Gambia filed a 35-page application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November 2019 against Myanmar. The ICJ’s extraordinary victory in the Gambia v. Myanmar case regarding the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Rohingya people is the first of its kind. This was founded on an “erga omnes” premise, which periodically reports on the situation of the Rohingya.

However, Bangladesh continues to push for international organizations to take humanitarian action through the UN. Though this worry might attract their attention and drive them to consider ensuring human rights for these forcibly displaced persons, it has instead placed a heavy load on Bangladesh.

Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, issued a warning to the international bodies regarding the Rohingya crisis just a few days ago during his visit to Bangladesh in December 2021. Bangladesh “cannot and should not bear this duty alone,” he said, urging foreign groups to express grave concern. He went on to say that Myanmar, not Bangladesh, was the origin of the conflict and where it will ultimately be resolved.

Bangladesh, a developing nation with a population of 160 million, is being horribly impacted by the Rohingya people in terms of social, economic, and political spheres. Rohingyas have been in a condition of limbo since at least 2017, which is now more than five years ago.

They have been relocated, assisted, and given security by Bangladesh and several international organizations, but they still yearn for a long-lasting solution.

Bangladesh has been taking every action imaginable to bring the Rohingya refugees’ home. Since the 2017 refugee inflow, the Bangladeshi government has worked with various international groups to promote peaceful voluntary repatriation; however, the Myanmar military junta has consistently resisted these efforts. Refugees from the Rohingya minority are currently suffering greatly as a result of the political unrest in Myanmar.

As Cox’s Bazar’s refugee camps are already overflowing with 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, the Bangladesh is moving them to Bhasan Char in order to provide for them improved living conditions.

International organizations had doubts regarding the safety and security of the Island; however, Bangladesh eventually persuaded them to cooperate. Bangladesh was left with no choice but to relocate some Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char. Bangladesh now faces a security danger from overcrowded camps. The Rohingya camps in Bangladesh are home to numerous terrorist and armed rebel organizations. One of them is the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Despite the issues, Bangladesh has continued to push for bilateral discussions while also applying international pressure to the junta.

Myanmar, on the other hand, is a lawless state that disobeys international law and order. The arrangements established for the peaceful return of Rohingya refugees were broken.

In Myanmar, the regime has been increasingly hostile since the military takeover. Myanmar is utterly unwilling to help the Rohingya refugees develop a strong sense of desire for return. There is no “supranational” authority in anarchy, which is advantageous for Myanmar. It is now time for the international community to recognize that the Rohingya refugee crisis has grown into a regional security issue.

Myanmar-related news indicates a new genocide. the country’s rebel and protest groups are being repressed by the military junta with violence.

The Myanmar military is still buying new weapons from China and Russia, including the SU-30SME multi-role heavy fighter, the YAK-130 light attack advanced jet trainer, the K-8W advanced trainer, and Ming class attack submarine, among others, despite an arms embargo. The world community is concerned that these weapons could accidentally attack defenseless populations. A peaceful voluntary return will face further obstacles as a result of internal unrest in Myanmar.

The Rohingya catastrophe, which forced 1.1 million individuals to leave their country of birth due to state-sponsored persecution, was of a size that is easy to comprehend. When the state commits the crime, the environment becomes more hostile. The main duty of the state is to uphold the rights and interests of its citizens.

Refugees are currently skeptical of the military junta in Myanmar. They have a long and painful history of persecuting people. Therefore, persuading the refugees to return home voluntarily won’t be simple. Myanmar must extend their hands in mutually beneficial ways. More discussions between international parties, including the Rohingya, will build confidence and facilitate a peaceful voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees. Humanity and peace should ultimately triumph over all other factors.

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Why the implementation of the CHT peace agreement is still elusive?

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When the “Top boxer” of Bangladesh, for the past eight years, Sura Krishna Chakma raised the national flag of Bangladesh in the first-ever professional boxing tournament held in last month, it reminds the contribution of the UK Ching Marma and other minority people who fought valiantly in the Liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.

Bangladesh began its independence journey with a population that is ethnically homogeneous, with less than 1% of the population being ethnically diverse. However, Bangladesh had struggled to deal with Chittagong Hill Tracts’ (CHT) tribal people as they have been waging an insurgency movement for autonomy. Later, Peace Accord was signed aiming to end the conflict in 1997. But, after 25 years of its signature, the treaty is still failing to instil trust among national political parties and factional groups. Currently, the situation in the CHT area is a complex mix of conflicts and negotiations. The area is also beset by ethnic tensions between indigenous communities and groups, interferences from neighbouring states, widespread poverty, resource scarcity, and low literacy rates.

Why peace in the CHT is still elusive?

In recent years, remote areas of CHT have become more prone to violence due to the involvement of various active groups in the area. The four ethnic political groups – PCJSS, Jana Samhati Samiti (Reformist-MN Larma), United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) and UPDF (Ganatantrik) – in the region appear to be at odds with one another. They have no ideological disagreements but are involved in inter-conflict for narrow self-interest rather than protecting the minority rights. All factions have specific armed wings with advanced weapons such as rocket launchers, automatic sniper rifles, and heavy machine guns, according to law enforcement. They extort wood trade, cooking markets, livestock markets, transportation, and a variety of other services, each on their own turf. Ransom for the abduction of ethnic groups and Bangalis are also a major source of income. Contractors also have to pay at the rate of 10 percent of the original budget. To stay safe, locals were forced to maintain good relationships with all parties. They are compelled to pay monthly tributes to remain in their homes. There are even reports of indigenous women being abducted and raped by rival groups. They are so vulnerable and frightened that they do not even move after the sunset. The inter-group conflicts have claimed more than 1100 lives since the signing of the peace accord. Although according to the terms of the accord, the guerrillas were to surrender and surrender their weapons but many haven’t surrendered arms yet.

What’s to blame for the present unrest?

The agreement’s lethargic implementation has reignited separatist tendencies among the Paharis. Recently, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), an insurgent organization of small ethnic group, demanded a separate state in CHT with full autonomy and threatened strict armed movement. Prior to this, The UPDF, a breakaway group, continues to oppose the treaty and seeks full regional autonomy.

The most pressing concern in CHT, however, is extensive Christianization among the tribal population. ‘Evangelization’ is generally carried out by the missionaries through a number of NGOs operating under the umbrella of “development partner.” Christian missionaries use money and other worldly trappings to entice poor tribal people to become Christians. So far, 4344 families in CHT became Christian in the last two decades and the number of churches increased dramatically from 274 in 1998 to 644 in 2022. It’s worth noting that more than a third of the Bandarban district’s tribal population is now Christian.

Impact of the Peace Accord on the Situation of ethnic People

Certainly, the Peace Accord made room and rendered opportunities for the CHT’s development. In these 25 years, comprehensive and systematic development efforts have contributed to the socio-economic development of the Pahari people, which immensely contributed in reducing the gap between the Pahari and Bengalis. Many tribes are well-integrated into mainstream middle-class Bangladeshi society, with officers and ambassadors serving in Bangladesh’s military and diplomatic corps.

With its contrasting topography of hilly terrains, immense lakes, wide-open spaces, as well as rich ethnic and cultural diversity, tourism industry flourished in the CHT. Tourism boosted due to the infrastructural projects connecting the remote and mystic parts with the main areas of the country and security ensured by the law enforcement agencies from the precarious hilly terrain to the remote bordering area. The treaty also integrated the CHT people into the mainstream economy, while permitting them to retain their specific ethnic and cultural identities.

The ‘Small Ethnic Groups Cultural Organisation Act 2010’ was passed in order to safeguard and foster the cultural expressions of Bangladesh’s small ethnic groups. Small ethnic groups’ rights are now more recognized by the government in Bangladesh than before. The development allocation per capita in the CHT districts is significantly higher than in the rest other districts. The government has amended some laws to allow for the implementation of the peace accord mainly the formation of the ‘CHT Regional Council’ and the ‘Ministry of CHT Affairs’, establishing the ‘Land commission’ to deal with conflicts over land and natural resource rights. The government is also gradually reducing military camps. The number decreased from 546 to 206. Another feature of post-agreement development in the hills has been the influx of development partners and the extension of NGOs and INGOs in the CHT area.

Way Forward

The first and foremost, the Bangladesh Government must take into cognizance the factors behind the failure of establishing peace in CHT areas to ensure peace in the hilly region. Secondly, the implementation of the remaining articles should also need to be prioritized. So far, out of 78 provisions, 48 provisions of the Accord have been implemented. Hill people strongly believe that the implementation of the Accord is the key to solving problems in the CHT. Thirdly, it is crucial to control the armed factions to evict violence and restore peace to CHT on an urgent basis. Fourthly, both the Hill and the Bengali people emphasize that land disputes need to be resolved immediately. And finally, there is a need for consolidating the progress achieved so far.

Nevertheless, an established misconception is prevailing among the hilly people that their voices are not heard and they are treated differently from the rest of the Bengalis. To eradicate this misconception and build trust and harmony, more initiatives should be undertaken by the government.

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