Speakers at a roundtable discussion on Thursday emphasised promoting peace and harmony in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to ensure sustainable development in the region.
Organised by the Institute of Conflict, Law and Development Studies, the discussion titled ‘Comprehensive development of CHT: Importance of harmony and coexistence’ was held at the National Press Club in the capital in the morning.
‘The existing situation in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is not conducive to a peaceful coexistence of the Bangalee [mainland] and the Pahari [hill] peoples there,’ said Dhaka University’s international relations professor Delwar Hossain in his keynote paper.
He said that the distance in the social relationships between the Bangalee and hill communities living in the CHT was widening.
‘An overall development cannot be attained there without peace and harmony,’ he said.
He viewed that stability in the CHT situation was also important for its geographical location and as rising global powers like China and India were likely to take interest in economic activities involving the region.
Another DU international relations professor Amena Mohsin said that the situation in the CHT was not stable at all and was becoming increasingly unpredictable.
She put emphasis on a constitutional recognition of the national minorities living in the region to build trust among them.
DU history professor Mesbah Kamal said that the lack of peace in the CHT was rooted in the denial of identities of the national minorities living there.
The problem has to be settled politically and by recognising the identities of the national minorities in the region, he observed.
He pointed out that the national minorities now constituted only 48 per cent of the CHT population, which was 87 per cent in 1973.
He also noted that non-implementation of the CHT accord in over two decades of time since it was passed was viewed as a breach of trust by the minorities.
Khagrachhari mayor Rafiqul Alam observed that there was no doubt about the development that took place in the Hill Tracts ‘but the region still remains enveloped in a sense of fear’.
‘Unbalanced and discriminatory development is responsible for the fear,’ said Rafiqul.
CHT affairs minister Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing called on the people living in the hills to realise that nothing can be achieved if they did not want to live in peace and harmony.
He admitted that the process of implementing the CHT accord had become almost stagnant but said that ‘measures have been taken to expedite the process soon’.
He disclosed that development projects worth Tk 8,000 crore were being implemented in the hills while the government was committed to inclusion of everyone [in the region] in its development process.
Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board chairman Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura and former caretaker government adviser CM Shafi Sami also presented two keynote papers at the discussion.
Lakkhichhari upazila chairman Babul Chowdhury, Rangamati Sadar upazila chairman Shahiduzzaman Ruman, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum general secretary Sanjeeb Drong and Baghachhari upazila chairman Sudarshan Chakma also attended the discussion.