Negotiating with the Other: Centre-Periphery Perceptions, Peacemaking Policies and Pervasive Conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

Open access

Abstract

Intrastate peace agreements tend to be drafted in situations of political chaos, multiple combatants and shifting allegiances within and between state and non-state actors. Despite this, such agreements continue to reflect a bilateral understanding of conflict, with the state on one side and the non-state on the other. Such an understanding was employed in the largely unsuccessful 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord in Bangladesh. This article argues that the failure of the Accord to secure a durable and lasting peace is due to the mistaken belief by the Bangladeshi government that the conflict was a ‘two sides’ war between the modern Bengali-Muslim state and it’s ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ periphery. Soon after the Peace Accord was signed it became apparent that the Government of Bangladesh had made a fatal error in assuming that the communities in question were a simple, homogenous and unified group. Rather, the communities of the CHT are a collection of ethnically and ideologically distinct groups. This failure has led to division and competition of local politics in the CHT today, and continued warfare within and between many CHT communities. Violent actors have been polarized by the terms of the peace agreement and jungle warfare continues at great risk and cost to communities.1

1The term ‘Pahari’ is employed in this article to describe all of the Chittagong Hill Tracts communities collectively. Despite a distinct lack of unified identity in the CHT before the 20th century (van Schendel 1992), this term has gained popularity as a term of self-reference for many communities in the CHT, and roughly translates to ‘Hill People’ (Uddin 2010a). The arguably more widely employed term ‘Jumma’ is avoided in this article where possible due to its connotations with the Jumma-Nation building project by ethnic based organizations in the CHT that has been resisted by many Pahari communities and is discussed in-depth below.

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