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Pakistan-Iran Relations

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Establishment of Bittersweet Relations

Pakistan and Iran share strong historical, religious, cultural, and linguistic bonds. The relationship witnessed ups and downs, but despite all that the two countries tried to maintain a smooth path. Soon after Pakistan’s independence, Iran was the first country to recognize its independence from the British raj.  The diplomatic ties started with the visit of the then PM Liaqat Ali khan in 1948. The relationship took a good flight with the visit of the Shah of Iran in 1950. Both the countries enjoyed cordial relations until 1996 but then due to divergence of interest in Afghanistan both moved apart. Pakistan was pro-Taliban whereas Iran supported the anti-Taliban alliance (i.e. Northern Alliance). Pakistan’s post 9/11 policy had further increased the void. Islamabad’s pro-Saudi and West policy added salt to the recipe. Being partner of United States of America in WoT, and under a great American and Saudi Arabia’s influence, Pakistan and Iranian relations suffered a lot. The General Zia’s regime with a strong pro-Saudis attitude also negatively impacted the two. However, the land connection between the two gave an opportunity to revive the relationship.

Adding Economic dimension

Being immediate neighbors, Muslim states and once good partners tried to fill-up the gap through non-economic means. However, in the age of development, both the states have to analyse the level of their relations through the lens of economic means as well. As, both the states have huge potential. Both Pakistan and Iran look towards the untapped the economic opportunities in order to have a strong regional bond. In addition, history also witnessed that both the states have extended their support to each other in worst times as well.

With the help of China and smooth development of CPEC, United States’ influence in the region could be countered. Convergence of interest in this very case is of utmost importance. The impetus behind the closer relations between the two should be prospered in  developed state system.

Pakistan as a growing state needs to meet the energy deficiency, and for that Iran could be a good option, being a neighbor rich in natural resources especially oil and gas is vital for an energy deficient state. On the other hand, Pakistan, a country of 209 million people with a per capita income of $1,480, is a developing economy with a GDP of $312.57 billion and an estimated real growth rate of 3.3% (2019). Pakistan has to strengthen its trade relations with Iran and vice versa for a prosper future. To that end, both states have to utilize economic means as well, an element of soft power, to further deepen the economic dependency for development and growth.

Trade Amount US Dollars
Pakistan Exports To Iran Rice, Meat, Paper and Paper Board, Chemicals, Textiles, Fruit & Vegetables 22.86 million
Pakistan Imports From Iran Iron Ore, Hide & Skins, and Chemical Products 369.23 million
Total Trade Volume 392.08 million

Table 1: Pakistan – Iran Trade Volume

Other spheres of cooperation

The people to people contact between the Pakistani and Iranian community is unique. Religion, Sufism, and Persian language all have a deep imprint. The state relations currently are in transformative phase. Positive state attitude tip-offs that both Iran and Pakistan desires to work together for a brighter future. In the recent history, and under the current government of PTI, the relations took a new height. Exchange of high profile visits including Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Javad Zarif (August 2018, October 2018, May 2019) and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister (Dec 2018), and Prime Minister Imran Khan(21-22 April 2019) all are a start of new beginning. Moreover, helped enhance mutual understanding on political, economic and security sectors. Strong communication links between the two also facilitated policy formation for a consistent and mutually beneficial diplomatic, political, and trade ties. Pakistan and Iran signed Declaration for Cooperation in Healthcare Sector; opening of new crossing points, initiation of the process for release of a number of Pakistani prisoners; and call for peaceful solution of Jammu &Kashmir dispute.P akistan’sbacking on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and commitment towards Tehran in the face of U.S.’s unilateral sanctions has been a great source of strength and applauded by Iran too.

Iran’s Standing in the Middle East

Iran has a long history and is an important regional player, one of well-known Middle Eastern power bloc. Iran survived and is surviving despite of all the International sanctions. Power politics is not only western dream but is admired by the eastern countries too. Iran has a good regional connection and time and again has played its role in a very smart manner. Its affiliates are everywhere, from Palestine to Iraq and Syria, Afghanistan, & Pakistan.

Since, Iran played a major role in Middle East, a strong Iran is always seen as a challenge not only to the Middle Eastern power machines but also world’s superpower U.S. A fragile Iran favours of all those. To this end, even America played its card well and hence tried to put it under pressure.

Iran vs USA

To this lead, even killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Solemani in January is also a move to further weaken Iran. U.S. instead of acting wisely, start frivolous acts, for instance trade war with China, assassination of Solemani, zero response on Kashmir and Palestine, just to keep itself up.

U.S. was well aware of that in wake of Solemani’s murder, Iranians would fight back. Though Iran would not indulge in any straight conflict but proxies. Hence, U.S. tried to influence regional states even Pakistan to be part of its dirty games. Pakistan as already trapped in Afghanistan, and lost so much in terms of human life and economics, doesn’t want to support the Big Might this time. Hence, Islamabad refused to be part of a problem that would be a havoc for the regional peace and stability. One reason behind U.S.’s all these efforts is also to disturb China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC a game changer for the region which is also perceived by the world community is a problem for U.S. China’s rise and economic influence in the region is wearisome for U.S.

U.S. wanted to have a permanent presence in Balochistan near Iran, not only to keep an eye on Tehran but also Beijing and Gwadar. The impetus was to destabilize the CPEC progress through its presence there. As, if the conflict erupts and U.S. start operating for Balochistan, there would be no moment and no development and hence will indirectly hinder CPEC.

Pakistan’s stance on the emerging conflict

Pakistan’s establishment and political parties were well aware of this odd game and hence were on the same page; therefore sent a straight message to Washington that it will not be part of any ferocious act. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi conveyed the message that, “Pakistan’s soil will not be used against any other state, and nor will Pakistan become a part of this regional conflict and doesn’t endorse any unilateral action”.

Pakistan’s strong position on that fortunately hoarded the region from another Afghanistan to happen.  Pakistan is trying to correct its already complex relations with Iran.

Power shift in Iran

Iran just had the first round of its parliamentary elections in last week, the second round is yet to happen in May most probably, but the results have clearly indicated the patterns and the ones sliding into the power corridors are been identified. However, a number of factors are responsible for these “obvious results” as some citizens are calling them to be.

Giving a brief account of the ideologies into play, Iran had a coalition for reformists and another of principlists. There was the right wing, the left wing and the centrists i.e. the ones with a moderate approach. In 2016, the 120 seats were won by the reformists while 113 were taken up by the principlists or conservatives. The remaining ones were distributed between the independents largely and others. However, the emerging picture of results in 2020 is very different from what it was four years back.

The parliamentary elections 2020 for Iran had made it easy for the conservatives or the hardliners to get to power. In Islamic Republic’s Majlis of 290 seats, 219 are already won by them. Primarily, because of the fact that only a small number of participants are allowed to run for the office or contest the elections. Prior to elections the contestants are supposed to go through a scrutiny by the Guardian Council. It is a body that includes six jurists and six clerics who are appointed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This time, the GC had disqualified more than fifty percent of the total 14,000 applicants who had applied to run for the office. Most of these disqualified names were those of the reformists or the moderates.

So far, the canvas seems clyster the brush is in hand of conservatives with the lead of 219 seats in the majlis. The lowest voter turnout since 1979 was also alarming however, even though it favoured conservatives, it will have an impact until the next parliamentary elections. Whatever excuse or loopholes one may identify, the point to notice is now that the conservatives appear to be at the driving seat, how can the outcome for the internal as well as external Iranian affairs can easily be contemplated.

Domestic issues

Another factor to understand here is that Iran experienced lowest voter turnout since the Iranian revolution of 1979. Less than half of the total voters is said to have voted in the recent elections. It is said that some people didn’t participate because of the economic situation. The most important reason for those people is the sanctions by the USA and so they have became hopeless as of anything can be changed. However, the good news is that if the new representatives would do anything against the illegal sanctions, the domestic situation can be changed in favor of the government. It has been said that people have shown dissatisfaction over the clerical rule particularly after the Ukrainian plane massacre. If conservative proceed with narrower scope to function there is likely a chance that they can face fallout of the mass protests leading to the worsening of the situation for Iran.

In bag for Ruhani

The new parliament will not be an ally for Ruhani. Because conservatives are not so fond of him and reformists. They cannot forget his politics and political rhetoric about their opinions and principles. Also, it seems they will put more pressure on him in order to get more privileges. So, Ruhani should be prepared for new critics and hard domestic situation.

In all, the foreign policy of Ruhani toward the west will be more weakened because the new parliament is not expected to be on the same page as him. Although, Ruhani has shown a flexible political opinion which made him able to work with all parties of Iran, the new era of Iran’s domestic affairs are not so clear. So it’s a little soon to predict the future!

Who could be the next supreme leader?

The struggle for power is already into play admist US sanctions. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei’s failing health and increasing age has led to the speculations of who could take his place. His resign or death can altogether reshape Iranian politics. The most likely names in this regard are Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Sadeq Larijani and Ebrahim Raisi.

Vague future

The imminent question rises that next president off course would be from conservatives, how they will orientate state cogs when it comes to dealing with Washington? Will they behave in same manner or worse?  Or there is any minute chance that they will behave in an opposite manner and try to men the ties with international community and Oval? While it this point in time, the parliamentary elections cannot directly have an impact on the foreign policy but after the presidential elections, where the same conservative parliament can elect their president things can get a little shaky. The conservatives apparently are not so fond of the direct negotiations and can lead to re-imposition of sanctions as well. At this moment when the global economy is on a gamble in post corona outbreak, Iran being affected by this terrible news too, needs to secure their economic interests. There is likely a chance that conservative would act in a liberal and a quite understanding manner when it comes to dealing with Washington.

Pak-Iran and the West

As both the states have new political elites, it is time to counter the western influence in the region, both states have to entrust working closely with each other in different sectors. Following are some points highlighting the Pakistan – Iran convergence of interest:

  1. Pakistan – Iran cooperation and collaboration in Afghanistan
  2. Combating terrorism, extremism, & separatism
  3. Countering Epidemic Disease
  4. Iran – Pakistan Gas Pipeline
  5. Trade: Iran – Pakistan Economic Corridor
  6. CPEC
  7. Promotion of Tourism
  8. Gwadar – Chabhar Junction
  9. Marine Investment
  10. Defence/Military Relations
  11. Energy Sector
  12. Counter border Corruption
  13. Controlling illegal goods and human trafficking
  14. Vocational/Professional trainings
  15. Joint working groups on regional strategic stability

To conclude, Pakistan doesn’t want to be part of any game that could have a negative impact on Pakistan. Pakistan, a sectarian sensitive state could have severe internal civil consequences. Being part of U.S. against Iran could have triggered an upsurge in sectarian tensions of the region especially Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, it opted to be neutral. Pakistan, has to work on its foreign policy viz-a-viz Middle Eastern states. Both Pakistan and Iran as to realize the importance of their positions and relations in the region and also have to reap their full economic potential. It’s time to come to workable agreements and negotiations in order to show need for cooperation and collaboration.

Sabah Aslam is the Founder & Executive Director of Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution (IICR), and member visiting faculty Dept. of Peace & Conflict Studies, NUML, and School of Politics & IR, Quaid-I- Azam University, Islamabad.

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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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South Asia

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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