Sarder Ali Haider 
Brief Overview of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Conflict and the 1997 Peace Accord
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), a region in southeastern Bangladesh, has a long history of ethnic and political strife. The roots of the conflict in the CHT can be traced back to the British colonial era and were further complicated after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. The ethnic communities of the CHT, primarily tribal groups distinct from the Bengali majority in terms of culture, language, and religion, have long sought autonomy and the preservation of their land rights. This struggle intensified with the influx of Bengali communities leading to decades of insurgency, human rights abuses, and displacement of the general people.
In an effort to resolve this protracted conflict, the Government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), the political wing of the armed ethnic community group Shanti Bahini, signed the CHT Peace Accord on December 2, 1997. The accord was hailed as a significant step towards peace, aiming to end violence, ensure the rights of the ethnic community people, and bring about the disarmament of the Shanti Bahini. It included provisions for regional autonomy, the withdrawal of military forces, rehabilitation of displaced people, and the recognition of indigenous rights.
However, 26 years since the signing of the accord, the promise of peace in the CHT remains unfulfilled. The emergence of new armed factions, continued communal tensions, and the dissatisfaction among various ethnic groups highlight a critical gap in the peace process. This article emphasizes the need for a holistic Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) strategy, tailored to the unique socio-political context of the CHT. Such a strategy is not only vital for ensuring the decommissioning of armed groups but is also crucial for addressing the underlying causes of conflict, fostering community reconciliation, and paving the way for sustainable peace and development in the region. The successful implementation of DDR in the CHT would serve not only as a closure to the armed conflict but as a foundation for building a harmonious and inclusive society, aligned with the diverse needs and aspirations of all its inhabitants.
Background of the CHT Peace Accord
Historical Context: Ethnic Tensions and the Genesis of Conflict in the CHT
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is a region of ethnic and cultural diversity and home to several ethnic tribal communities. These communities, including the Chakma, Marma, Tripura, and others, have distinct cultural, linguistic, and religious identities, differing significantly from the Bengali majority of Bangladesh. The genesis of the conflict in the CHT can be traced back to the British colonial period, which saw the introduction of an administrative system that acknowledged limited autonomy and some right of the tribal communities. The 1970s and 1980s witnessed significant political and security changes in the CHT, specially the movement of Insurgent Group, Santi Bahini.
Key Components and Objectives of the 1997 Peace Accord
The 1997 Peace Accord aimed to address these longstanding issues and bring an end to the conflict. Its key components and objectives included:
- Disarmament: The agreement called for the disarmament and disbandment of the Shanti Bahini, the armed wing of the PCJSS.
- Regional Autonomy: The accord proposed the establishment of a Regional Council for the CHT to oversee certain aspects of governance.
- Land Rights: It included provisions for addressing land disputes and the rights of the ethnic communities, acknowledging the central issue of land dispossession.
- Withdrawal of Military Forces: The accord stipulated a reduction in military presence and the dismantling of temporary camps in the CHT.
- Rehabilitation of Displaced People: Provisions were made for the safe return and rehabilitation of internally displaced people and refugees.
Shortcomings in the Post-Accord Phase
Despite its promising objectives, the Peace Accord faced significant challenges in its implementation:
- Incomplete Disarmament: The disarmament of the Shanti Bahini was not fully realized, with reports of some former combatants retaining arms. This incomplete disarmament laid the groundwork for future tensions and the emergence of new armed factions.
- Limited Autonomy and Governance Issues: The envisaged autonomy and powers of the Regional Council were not fully actualized, leading to dissatisfaction among the ethnic communities. The governance structure promised in the accord did not effectively address the political aspirations of the indigenous people.
- Land Rights and Resettlement Conflicts: The tribal regional party leaders think that the resolution of land disputes was slow and often ineffective, leading to continued tensions between ethnic populations and Bengali settlers. The issues of land rights and dispossession remained largely unresolved.
- Persistent Military Presence: According to various ethnic community leaders, the withdrawal of military forces and dismantling of camps did not occur as anticipated, maintaining a sense of militarization in the region.
- Community Divisions: The accord did not adequately address the deep-seated ethnic and communal divisions. The lack of effective mechanisms for community reconciliation and integration further fueled distrust and animosity.
While the 1997 Peace Accord was a landmark step towards resolving the conflict in the CHT, its implementation fell short in addressing key issues such as disarmament, autonomy, land rights, and community reconciliation. These shortcomings contributed to the persistence of tensions and the emergence of new challenges in the post-accord phase.
Disarmament and Demobilization: The First Steps
The Importance of Disarmament in Ensuring Immediate Post-Conflict Security
Disarmament is a crucial first step in the transition from conflict to peace, especially in regions like the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), where armed insurgency has been a significant aspect of the conflict. The removal of weapons from former combatants and the community is essential in reducing the immediate risk of violence and creating a secure environment conducive to further peacebuilding activities. Disarmament helps to build trust among conflicting parties and between the community and the state, demonstrating a commitment to leaving violent methods behind and embracing peaceful dialogue.
Strategies for Effective Demobilization of Combatants
- Creating Incentives for Surrendering Arms: Effective disarmament often involves providing incentives for combatants to surrender their weapons. These incentives could include monetary compensation, guarantees of safety, or promises of participation in reintegration programs.
- Establishing Secure Weapons Collection and Destruction Processes: Setting up secure and transparent processes for the collection and destruction of weapons is vital.
- Ensuring Inclusivity in the Process: All groups involved in the conflict should be part of the disarmament process. This inclusivity prevents the feeling of marginalization and ensures that no group retains arms, which could lead to a resurgence of conflict.
- Demobilization Camps and Facilities: Establishing demobilization camps where former combatants can be safely housed and provided with basic needs while transitioning out of military structures is a practical approach. These camps also serve as centers for the initial stages of reintegration, such as vocational training and counseling.
Challenges Faced in the Disarmament and Demobilization Phases in the CHT
Lack of Trust and Security Concerns: One of the primary challenges in the CHT was the lack of trust among former combatants towards the government and the peace process. Concerns about personal security and the fear of reprisals can hinder the willingness to disarm.
- Political Commitment and Resource Allocation: Effective disarmament and demobilization require strong political commitment and adequate resources. In the CHT, limitations in both these aspects affected the implementation of these processes.
- Complexity of Identifying Combatants: In insurgencies like that in the CHT, distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants can be challenging. This complexity can lead to issues in the disarmament process, where some combatants might be left out, retaining their weapons.
- Continued Grievances and Lack of Alternatives: If the underlying grievances that led to the conflict are not addressed, and if former combatants do not see viable alternatives for their future, they may be reluctant to disarm and demobilize. In the CHT, the slow progress in addressing issues like land rights contributed to this challenge.
While disarmament and demobilization are critical for the peace process, their success heavily depends on the context-specific strategies that address the unique challenges of the conflict-affected region. In the case of the CHT, addressing these challenges effectively would have been a significant step towards sustainable peace.
Psychological Support for Ex-Combatants
The Need for Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Care
Ex-combatants, having experienced the traumas of armed conflict, often carry psychological scars that can impede their reintegration into civilian life. The stress of combat, loss of comrades, and exposure to violence can lead to a range of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Providing psychological support is not just crucial for the well-being of ex-combatants but is also essential for ensuring they do not revert to violence as a coping mechanism. Mental health and trauma-informed care are fundamental in helping them process their experiences, facilitating a healthier adjustment to post-conflict life.
Case Studies of Successful Psychological Support in Other Post-Conflict Scenarios
- Rwanda’s Community-Based Healing: Post-genocide, Rwanda implemented community-based approaches to address trauma. Initiatives like the “Gacaca” community courts and local support groups helped individuals process their experiences, fostering reconciliation and healing.
- Colombia’s Reintegration Programs: In Colombia, psychological support was integrated into the broader reintegration programs for former FARC combatants. This approach included individual and group therapy, focusing on coping strategies, emotional regulation, and social skills.
- Northern Ireland’s Trauma Centers: After the troubles, Northern Ireland established specialized trauma centers offering services like counseling and therapy to those affected by the conflict, including ex-combatants.
Potential Strategies for Implementing Psychological Support in the CHT Context
- Integration of Mental Health Services in DDR Programs: Psychological support should be an integral part of the DDR process in the CHT. This could include mental health assessments, counseling services, and therapy sessions, tailored to the needs of the ex-combatants.
- Training of Local Mental Health Professionals: To address the lack of mental health resources, training local professionals in trauma-informed care is crucial. This approach ensures culturally sensitive and accessible services.
- Community-Based Support Systems: Establishing community support systems can be effective in the CHT, where communal ties are strong. These systems can provide a platform for group therapy, peer support, and social reintegration activities.
- Collaboration with NGOs and International Organizations: Partnerships with NGOs and international organizations experienced in post-conflict psychological support can bring in expertise and additional resources.
- Awareness and Destigmatization Campaigns: Raising awareness about mental health and combating stigma around seeking psychological help are vital. This can involve community workshops, media campaigns, and involving local leaders to change perceptions.
- Monitoring and Evaluation: Regular monitoring and evaluation of the psychological support programs can help in understanding their effectiveness and making necessary adjustments.
Implementing a comprehensive psychological support framework for ex-combatants in the CHT is crucial for their well-being and for the sustainable peace process. Such support not only aids in their personal healing but also contributes to the overall stability and reconciliation in the post-conflict society.
Socio-economic Reintegration of Ex-Combatants
The Role of Education, Vocational Training, and Employment Opportunities in Reintegration
Socio-economic reintegration is a pivotal aspect of the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process, facilitating the transition of ex-combatants from military to civilian life. This transition is crucial for lasting peace and stability in post-conflict societies like the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
- Education and Skills Training: Many ex-combatants may lack formal education or marketable skills, hindering their ability to find civilian employment. Providing access to education and vocational training enables them to acquire new skills or enhance existing ones, increasing their employability. This can include technical skills training, literacy classes, and education programs tailored to different age groups and skill levels.
- Employment Opportunities: Creating employment opportunities is essential for the economic stability of ex-combatants. This can be facilitated through job placement services, microcredit schemes for starting small businesses, and incentives for local businesses to hire ex-combatants.
- Social Entrepreneurship Programs: Encouraging ex-combatants to engage in social entrepreneurship can help them become agents of positive change in their communities. These programs can focus on areas like agriculture, crafts, and services, leveraging local resources and skills.
Inclusion of Women and Juvenile Activists in Reintegration Programs
Special attention is needed for the reintegration of women and juvenile activists, as they face unique challenges and vulnerabilities.
- Women Activists of the Tribal Regional Parties: Women often have different experiences and roles in conflict and may face additional societal stigma. Reintegration programs for women should address specific needs like childcare, healthcare, and support for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Economic empowerment through skill development tailored to women can be particularly effective.
- Juvenile activists require specialized reintegration programs that focus on psychological support, education, and reunification with families. Rehabilitation programs should address the trauma of war and exploitation, and provide a supportive environment for their physical, mental, and social development.
Examples of Successful Socio-economic Reintegration from Other Post-conflict Areas
- Sierra Leone’s Community-Based Reintegration: Post-civil war, Sierra Leone implemented a successful community-based reintegration program. It focused on skills training, education, and community projects that facilitated the reintegration of ex-combatants into their communities.
- Liberia’s Entrepreneurship Programs: In Liberia, post-conflict reintegration included entrepreneurship training and microcredit facilities, which helped ex-combatants establish small businesses and integrate economically into society.
- Rwanda’s Focus on Education: Rwanda placed a strong emphasis on education in its reintegration efforts. Former child soldiers and young combatants were given opportunities for formal education, along with vocational training, which played a crucial role in their social and economic reintegration.
The socio-economic reintegration of ex-combatants in the CHT requires a multifaceted approach, addressing education, employment, entrepreneurship, and the unique needs of women and juvenile activists. Learning from successful examples globally, it’s clear that tailored, community-driven approaches can significantly enhance the prospects for sustainable peace and development in post-conflict societies.
Community Reconciliation and Social Integration
Approaches to Fostering Community Acceptance and Reconciliation
Community acceptance and reconciliation are vital for the long-term stability and peace in post-conflict areas like the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). These processes involve healing the divisions and building bridges between different community groups, including ex-combatants, indigenous populations, and Bengali settlers.
- Dialogue and Peacebuilding Workshops: Organizing community dialogues and peacebuilding workshops can create platforms for different groups to share their experiences, grievances, and aspirations. These interactions foster understanding and empathy, essential for reconciliation.
- Traditional and Cultural Approaches: Leveraging traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and cultural practices can be effective in communities with strong cultural identities. Engaging local leaders and elders in reconciliation processes ensures cultural sensitivity and wider community acceptance.
- Joint Community Projects: Initiating joint community projects involving diverse groups can facilitate practical cooperation and build trust. Projects could focus on community development, environmental conservation, or cultural activities.
Importance of Conflict Resolution and Peace Education Programs
- Conflict Resolution Training: Training community members in conflict resolution skills equips them to handle disputes peacefully. These skills are particularly important in areas like the CHT, where historical grievances and ethnic tensions can lead to conflicts.
- Peace Education in Schools: Integrating peace education into school curricula can play a significant role in shaping the attitudes of the younger generation. Teaching concepts of tolerance, diversity, and peaceful coexistence can help prevent the recurrence of conflict.
- Public Awareness Campaigns: Public campaigns that promote messages of peace, reconciliation, and shared community values can help change societal attitudes and reduce prejudice.
Challenges and Opportunities in the CHT’s Diverse Ethnic and Cultural Landscape
- Managing Diverse Identities: The CHT is home to multiple ethnic groups, each with its own identity, culture, and language. Reconciliation efforts must acknowledge and respect these diverse identities while promoting a sense of shared community and belonging.
- Overcoming Historical Grievances: Historical injustices and grievances, such as land dispossession and cultural assimilation, pose significant challenges to reconciliation. Addressing these issues honestly and seeking restorative measures is crucial for building trust.
- Opportunities for Inclusive Development: The CHT’s diversity can be turned into an opportunity for inclusive development. Programs that celebrate cultural diversity, promote intercultural exchanges, and support minority rights can contribute to a more harmonious society.
- Role of Civil Society and NGOs: Civil society organizations and NGOs can play a critical role in bridging divides. They can facilitate dialogue, advocate for minority rights, and implement peacebuilding initiatives at the grassroots level.
Fostering community reconciliation and social integration in the CHT requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the region’s complex history and cultural diversity. By employing a range of strategies from dialogue and peace education to cultural and community-based initiatives, there is potential to build a cohesive and peaceful society in the post-conflict landscape of the CHT.
Long-term Monitoring and Support
The Necessity of Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation of DDR Programs
Long-term monitoring and evaluation are critical for the success and sustainability of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs, particularly in complex post-conflict settings like the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Continuous assessment helps in understanding the impact of the DDR initiatives, identifying challenges and areas for improvement, and ensuring that the programs remain relevant and effective over time.
- Setting Clear Metrics and Goals: Establishing specific, measurable goals for DDR programs facilitates effective monitoring. These metrics could include the number of weapons collected, the number of ex-combatants successfully integrated into civilian life, and changes in community relations.
- Regular Reporting and Assessment: Implementing a system of regular reporting and assessment helps in tracking progress. This could involve periodic surveys, interviews with program participants, and community feedback sessions.
- Adaptability: The ability to adapt DDR programs based on monitoring results is crucial. As situations evolve and new challenges emerge, DDR initiatives should be flexible enough to accommodate changes and address unforeseen issues.
Role of International Organizations and Local NGOs in Supporting Long-term Peacebuilding
International organizations and local NGOs play a vital role in supporting and sustaining DDR efforts in the CHT.
- Expertise and Resources: International organizations can provide technical expertise, funding, and resources that may be beyond the capacity of local governments. They can also offer best practices and lessons learned from DDR programs in other post-conflict settings.
- Local NGOs’ Ground Knowledge: Local NGOs have in-depth understanding of the community dynamics and can provide valuable insights into the cultural and social aspects of DDR programs. They are crucial in implementing grassroots-level initiatives and can act as mediators between the community and the government.
- Advocacy and Awareness: Both international organizations and NGOs can play an advocacy role, raising awareness about the importance of DDR and its impact on peacebuilding. They can also lobby for continued political and financial support for these programs.
Strategies to Ensure Sustainability and Adaptability of DDR Initiatives
- Community Involvement: Involving the community in the planning, implementation, and monitoring of DDR programs ensures that these initiatives are aligned with local needs and realities. This increases community ownership and sustainability of the programs.
- Integrated Approach: DDR programs should be integrated into broader peacebuilding and development strategies. This includes linking DDR to economic development, education, health, and governance initiatives.
- Capacity Building: Building the capacity of local institutions and personnel to manage and sustain DDR programs is essential. Training local staff, establishing robust institutions, and developing local leadership can help ensure the longevity of these initiatives.
- Long-term Funding and Resource Allocation: Securing long-term funding and resources is critical for the sustainability of DDR programs. This may involve multi-year funding commitments from governments and international donors.
- Flexibility and Responsiveness: DDR programs should be designed to be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances. Regularly revisiting and revising strategies based on monitoring and evaluation findings can help ensure that DDR initiatives remain relevant and effective.
The success of DDR programs in the CHT is contingent upon effective long-term monitoring, the active involvement of international and local organizations, and the implementation of strategies that ensure sustainability and adaptability. By focusing on these aspects, DDR initiatives can significantly contribute to lasting peace and stability in the region.
Political and Legal Framework for DDR
The Need for Supportive Legal Reforms and Political Commitment
The effectiveness of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programs in areas like the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is heavily dependent on a supportive political and legal framework. A conducive environment, created by legal reforms and strong political commitment, is crucial for the successful implementation and sustainability of DDR initiatives.
- Legal Reforms: Legal reforms can provide a solid foundation for DDR programs. These may include laws that facilitate the disarmament process, regulate the possession and use of weapons, and provide legal frameworks for the reintegration of ex-combatants. Reforms should also address human rights and ensure the protection of both ex-combatants and the communities into which they reintegrate.
- Political Commitment: Strong political will is necessary to allocate sufficient resources, both financial and human, to DDR programs. It also ensures that these initiatives receive the necessary attention and prioritization within the broader scope of national policy and peacebuilding efforts.
Discussion of Amnesty Provisions and Legal Support for Ex-Combatants
- Amnesty Provisions: Amnesty can be a crucial component of DDR, offering legal protection to ex-combatants who surrender their arms and agree to reintegrate into civilian life. The specifics of amnesty provisions need careful consideration, balancing the need for justice and accountability with incentives for disarmament and reintegration.
- Legal Support Services: Providing legal support to ex-combatants is important for their reintegration process. This can include legal counseling, assistance in obtaining official documentation (like IDs and property deeds), and support in navigating the legal aspects of reintegration.
The Role of Government and Policymaking in Facilitating DDR Processes
- Formulating DDR Policies: The government plays a key role in formulating policies that guide DDR processes. These policies should be comprehensive, inclusive, and aligned with international standards and practices.
- Inter-Agency Coordination: Effective DDR requires coordination among various government agencies, including defense, interior, justice, social welfare, and economic development departments. Establishing inter-agency committees or task forces can enhance coordination and effectiveness.
- Involving Local Governments: Local governments can be instrumental in the DDR process, especially in implementing reintegration programs. Their involvement ensures that DDR initiatives are tailored to local contexts and needs.
- International Cooperation: Engaging with international organizations and foreign governments can provide access to additional resources, expertise, and best practices. It also ensures that DDR programs align with international peacebuilding efforts.
- Transparency and Accountability: Maintaining transparency in the implementation of DDR programs and holding all stakeholders accountable can build trust among the populace and the international community. This involves regular reporting, public disclosure of policies and practices, and mechanisms for feedback and grievances.
A strong political and legal framework is essential for the success of DDR programs in the CHT. Legal reforms, political commitment, carefully considered amnesty provisions, legal support for ex-combatants, and effective government policymaking and implementation are all key elements that contribute to the effectiveness and sustainability of DDR initiatives.
The journey towards sustainable peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is complex and multifaceted, as highlighted throughout this article. The key points underscore the necessity of a comprehensive approach to Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) that is sensitive to the unique context of the CHT. Each phase of DDR disarmament, demobilization, psychological support, socio-economic reintegration, community reconciliation, long-term support, and the establishment of a supportive political and legal framework plays a crucial role in the overall peace process.
Disarmament and demobilization are foundational steps in transforming the post-conflict landscape, setting the stage for security and stability. Psychological support for ex-combatants is critical in addressing the traumas of conflict and aiding their transition to civilian life. Socio-economic reintegration, encompassing education, vocational training, and employment opportunities, is vital for ensuring that ex-combatants can lead productive and fulfilling lives post-conflict. The inclusion of women and juvenile activists in these programs is essential, given their unique experiences and needs.
The success of DDR also hinges on effective community reconciliation and social integration. Building bridges between diverse community groups and fostering an environment of mutual understanding and cooperation is essential for long-term peace. This requires innovative approaches to dialogue, cultural and community-based initiatives, and education programs that promote peace and tolerance.
Moreover, the sustainability of DDR initiatives is contingent upon ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and adaptability. The role of international organizations and local NGOs is pivotal in providing support, resources, and expertise. Finally, a supportive political and legal framework, characterized by strong political will, legal reforms, and effective policymaking, is indispensable for the success of DDR programs.
The need for a holistic DDR strategy in the CHT cannot be overstated. It is not just a pathway to disarming and reintegrating ex-combatants but a comprehensive approach to addressing the underlying causes of conflict and building a foundation for lasting peace and development.
As such, this article serves as a call to action for policymakers, international organizations, and local communities. Collaboration and commitment are essential in implementing comprehensive DDR strategies that are tailored to the specific needs and realities of the CHT. Only through a concerted and unified effort can sustainable peace be achieved in this diverse and historically rich region. The future of the CHT, its communities, and its people depends on the actions taken today to ensure a peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous tomorrow.
 PhD Researcher, Bangladesh University of Professionals.