The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is a group of districts within the Chittagong Division in southeastern Bangladesh, bordering India and Myanmar (Burma) and covering 13,295 square kilometers. Historically settled by tribal groups, now the CHT is also inhabited by huge Bengali settlers.
The CHT region witnessed bloodshed beginning in the early 1970s, when ethnic groups protested the government’s policy of recognizing only the Bengali culture and language and designating all Bangladeshi citizens as Bengalis.
The CHT Peace Accord, signed in 1997 with the promise to end ethnic insurgency and grant a host of benefits to the people, was hailed by all.
With two decades passed since the signing of the CHT Accord, its lack of implementation has reached alarming levels. Ethnic groups and Bengali community are also demanding different types of political, citizenship and land rights.
As per ground realities, there could be fresh tension, political confrontation and security problem in the CHT if the emerging issues are not addressed.
The fact that the CHT people are overwhelmingly in favor of peace as a necessary precondition to all round development of the region is good augury. But the biggest challenge is to continue the peace that has emerged from the conflict with the wisdom, determination and political skill of the leadership.
However, the proximity of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the Bay of Bengal (BoB) poses a security risk. In a research report, Angshuman Choudhury, Siddharth Anil Nair, Ashutosh Nagda & Garima Maheshwari mentioned the BoB region is one of the most climate-vulnerable in the world. Its strategic, political, social and economic faultlines are also extensive. Together they create fertile ground for volatile security dynamics, social friction and violent conflict. It is a textbook example of the complex relationship between climate change and security, and how an aggregate of both could create emerging challenges for policy-planners (CLIMATE SECURITY IN THE BAY OF BENGAL, 18 Jan, 2022, 212, IPCS Special Report).
Growing strategic significance of the Bay of Bengal within the emerging and increasingly contested geography of the Indo-Pacific, is sharply visible in various ways. BoB's strategic location at the heart of the Indo-Pacific, and ponders the unfolding challenges to regionalism in the Bay of Bengal. It is important for Bangladesh to intensify its efforts to construct a more secure and cooperative Bay of Bengal littoral (C. Raja Mohan, "The Bay of Bengal in the Emerging Indo-Pacific").
Dr. Mahfuz Parvez, Professor, Political Science, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh; Associate Editor, www.barta24.com