by A. K. M. Abdus Sabur

Peace building in the CHT with its ultimate goal of ensuring sustainable peace is a highly complex, difficult as well as longstanding undertaking. It entails two sets of tasks:

  1. preventing a relapse into war; and
  2. ensuring sustainable peace.

While envisioning sustainable peace in the CHT, like that in case of any post-settlement process of peace building, what one encounters is innumerable highly difficult challenges. These challenges are of both intellectual and practical nature. This makes an analyst more vigilant than visionary while dealing with post-settlement process of peace building.


Preventing a relapse into war during post-settlement peace building is considered as encountering the challenge of `Clausewitz in reverse’. While Clausewitz asserted that “war is simply a continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means”, post-settlement peace building is the continuation of conflict, albeit transmuted into non-military mode. Therefore, the danger that the non-military means of waging conflict might degenerate into military ones is inherent in the process.

A combination of factors like futility of the military means, increasing costs, wastage of development opportunities, coupled with the expectation that their conflicting interests could be accommodated by peaceful means, led the belligerent parties in the CHT conflict to reach the Peace Accord. A cost benefit analysis concerning these and related factors would also determine their behaviour in the process of peace building.

In this regard, the perceptions of the parties to the conflict are of paramount importance. In order to prevent a relapse into war, it is an imperative that both the parties continue to perceive that their interests would be served better by peaceful means than military ones. So far, expression of dissatisfaction or grievances by both the parties, by the PCJSS leadership to a greater extent, has been systematic. A large number of grievances, particularly on the part of the PCJSS leadership, continue to prevail. However, at all stages these grievances remained far from posing a threat to the process of peace building.

Another important factor is the internal politics of the two parties. Mastering total elite cohesion by either of the parties with regard to peace deals to end conflicts like the one in the CHT is virtually impossible. Because such a deal could only be reached through accommodation of the interests of both the parties wherein both are to sacrifice some of their interests. Hence, opposition to the peace deal on the part of different segments of the elite on both sides of the dividing line is inevitable. However, a preponderance of the `peace constituency’ over the `war constituency’ is an essential prerequisite for peace building to progress and achieve its ultimate goal.

On the CHT issue, within both the parties, a preponderance of the `peace constituency’ over the `war constituency’ prevailed. While in case of the CHT people, the opposition to the Peace Accord came from a rather small group largely not involved in the armed insurgency, in case of the Bengalis, all the three major opposition parties vehemently opposed the Peace Accord. In both the cases, attempts were made to galvanise public opinion against the Accord. As evident, the `peace constituency’ continues to enjoy considerable preponderance over the `war constituency’ on both the sides along the dividing line in the conflict.

While there is no eminent danger of the relapse into war, uncertainties continue to prevail. Such uncertainties are indeed inherent in the process of peace building in the CHT itself as elsewhere in the world. More importantly, the forces and the factors that sustain the process of peace building in the CHT are not irreversible. The task of the moment is, therefore, to concentrate efforts, with caution and foresightedness, on building the foundation for sustainable peace.


Ensuring sustainable peace between or among the feuding parties remains the ultimate goal of the process of peace building. In addition to the resolution of the conflict through the implementation of the Peace Accord, it encompasses a host of inter-related and inter-dependent measures of socio-economic as well as politico-cultural nature. The complexity of long-standing tasks and challenges facing the peace building efforts in the CHT is likely to generate multifarious conflicts within and between the parties along the dividing line.

The list of tasks facing the peace building efforts designed to ensure sustainable peace in the CHT is quite long. However, these could be encapsulated under three broad themes:

  1. Reconstructing the Institutions and Processes;
  2. Ensuring Harmonious Development; and
  3. Healing the Scars of War.


Socio-economic and politico-cultural institutions and processes in the developing countries, including Bangladesh, lack built-in mechanism to adequately accommodate the aspirations of the weaker sections of the populace, especially the minorities. As a consequence, the grievances of the minorities often remain unattended unless these generate a severe conflict or even reach a crisis situation. In the circumstances, to ensure sustainable peace in the CHT, the reconstruction of institutions so as to prepare them to respond to the aspirations of the minorities timely, properly and adequately is a cardinal task.

In this regard, the first and foremost come the institutions which fall within the purview of the state. Because the state in the developing societies like Bangladesh is virtually omnipotent and highly interventionist both by nature and by compulsion. It also controls a significant part of the economic resources. Another important point, the state also significantly determines the nature and functions, and to a certain extent, controls the activities of NGOs and the civil society organisations.

In this regard, commitment was made in the Accord to create a Regional Council and three District Councils in the CHT with a preponderance of the hill people. Accordingly these were created. However, such bodies were formed through an administrative order, as elections could not be held. It is necessary to hold elections to the Regional and District Councils in the CHT, with a view to boosting popular legitimacy of and people’s confidence in these bodies. Importantly, it would also create a sense of popular participation in the political process.

The Regional and District Councils in the CHT alone would not be able to correct the situation in the region, not to speak about the whole country. It is also necessary to reform the institutions at the national level. For instance, Ministries of Finance and Planning may be assigned to formulate development programmes and implement them in a way so as to redress the grievances of the ethnic minorities and bring them into the national mainstream. The same implies to other ministries and concerned government bodies. In this regard, the Ministry of CHT Affairs could be reconstituted as the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and, thus, enable it to oversee the well being of ethnic minorities all over the country. Finally, a constitutional guarantee of the socio-economic and politico-cultural rights of the ethnic minorities is likely to increase significantly their confidence in the process of peace building.

It is difficult to make any more concrete suggestions with regard to the ways and means of reconstruction and, more so, to envision the above mentioned institutions and processes as reconstructed. Because, the fate of such an initiative would be decided by the interplay of a host of diverse forces with conflicting interests wherein all of them would try to reconstruct the institutions according to their own design. However, a viable reconstruction of institutions could only take place in the broader context of democratisation of the polity and the ongoing process of institutionalisation of democracy.

While the issues of war and peace have traditionally been considered to be within the purview of state and its organs, the broadened security agenda recognise an expanded range of non-state and informal actors. In this regard, the active engagement of civil society, NGOs and so on in the process of peace building is a necessary ingredient. While state continues to remain the dominant actor, the active participation by ordinary citizens in building formal and informal structures of governance is essential for attaining sustainable peace and development.


The notion of development implies economic, social, political as well as cultural development in a balanced and integrated way, embracing the diversity of social, ethnic and linguistic groups, religious communities, and geographical regions in harmony with prevailing values. The process of development is highly complex and contradictory. Social forces – classes, professional groups, ethnic and religious communities and others – who formulate and execute development strategies, act more in accordance with their group interests. As a consequence, developmental efforts generate numerous distortions and create imbalances along both horizontal and vertical lines within the polity. Therefore, danger prevails that the process of development, instead of contributing to the cause of peace building, may exacerbate social conflicts. On the other hand, it is the ongoing process of socio-economic and politico-cultural development that would have decisive impact on the process of peace building and ultimately determine its fate.

In the circumstances, while dealing with development in the context of peace building in the CHT, one needs to be highly cautious. A host of diverse forces with different or even conflicting interests is likely to take part in the process of development. While the government and the regional bodies are to be the two major counterparts, private entrepreneurs, including the foreign ones, are to play a crucial role in the process of development. Motivated by the goal of maximising profit, private business is unlikely to pursue harmonious development. This would necessitate considerable intervention on the part of the central government as well as the regional bodies. Therefore, the government bodies – central and regional – will have to devise through collaborative efforts a sustainable development strategy capable of dealing with the root causes of war and transforming the issues of conflict into those of co-operation.

The challenge is not only to ensure harmonious development in relation to the CHT and the rest of the country, the Bengalis and the hill people but also within the complex and diverse entity called the hill people. While the Bengali versus tribal divide is often magnified, the latter is as well sharply divided not only vertically but also horizontally. The hill people of CHT, divided into thirteen tribal and three religious groups, are not at the same level of development. While some of them surpass even the Bengalis in terms of literacy rate, some others are yet to be brought to the modern way of life and modern economic activities. Due to the central conflict of the region along the Bengali-Tribal dividing line, conflicts within or among the tribal groups remained suppressed. Once the central conflict is somehow contained or in the process of resolution, the tribal people will have to compete among themselves for the scarce resources and limited opportunities, the conflicts within or among the tribal groups could surface. The process of development will also have to deal with the issue that is quite a sensitive one.


Healing the scars of war is a long-standing task. The scars of war have a deeply ingrained social/psychological dimension. During war, the belligerents accumulate hurt and hatred, which persist for a long time and often survive generations. Such memories continue to remain a potentially disruptive factor, as in time of difficulties in mutual relations these could be revived in politically relevant forms, strengthening intransigence on the part of either or both the sides.

With regard to healing the scars of war, the rehabilitation of the victims of war on both the sides of the dividing line is one of the most immediate tasks. The victims include civilians as well as war-torn soldiers and insurgents: people who suffered severe injury or became disabled, lost their livelihood, were displaced as well as women who were violated, lost the earning member of their family and those who suffered war related trauma. While a process of rehabilitation in the CHT is going on, it is still incomplete and did not address the problems of all the victims, particularly the women.

Before the ongoing process is complete, it is necessary to include all other victims in the rehabilitation programme, particularly those who lost their livelihood and suffered moral-psychological trauma. In this regard, special trauma centres can be established with a view to healing the scars through counselling and subsequent rehabilitation. Similarly, the livelihood of the people who lost it could also be restored through providing them with training and job or assistance to self-employment. While government initiative, in this regard, would be required, NGOs and civil society organisations also could be involved in the process.

Healing the social/psychological scars of war through facilitating reconciliation amongst the belligerents at the grass-root level is a more vital and long-standing task of the process of peacebuilding. In case of CHT, so far no attempts to this effect have been initiated. The whole venture was confined at the top level of the leadership on the part of both the sides. However, for establishing self-sustained peace, efforts at reconciliation amongst the belligerents at the grass-root level are an essential prerequisite. On the positive side, there is time for initiating such a venture. It can come either from the above or below or both.

Academic endeavours based on recent case studies already identified that the term ‘reconciliation’ at the grass-root level must have at least three elements: the harmonising of stories, acquiescence in a given situation (perhaps reluctantly) and the restoration of friendly relations. This is a minimum. Both the parties, starting from the top level of the leadership to the grass-root level, may even go to the extent of offering apology to each other for wrongs done in the course of insurgency and counterinsurgency operations. This is not to suggest that any initiative in this regard concerning CHT is to follow a particular guideline. This could be developed through indigenous efforts while keeping in mind similar cases. However, an initiative is required, as changing mutually negative conflict attitude at the grass-root level is an essential prerequisite for sustainable peace.

While peace building is a highly difficult undertaking, there is also a positive side. The process of peace building, like that of conflict at a certain stage of its development, generates dynamism of its own, which becomes difficult to reverse. Both the processes in the way of their development create necessary material as well as emotional-psychological foundation for their sustenance. Viewed in this light, the ongoing process of peace building in the CHT is also an opportunity for the nation to create necessary material as well as emotional-psychological foundation for sustainable peace and development.

The author is a Senior Research Fellow, BIISS.

Views expressed in this write-up are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the centre.