The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It is bad politics and worse official policy to destroy a hard-won peace for partisan gains. Bangladesh’s prime minister, Ms Khaleda Zia, would be committing a mistake by rescinding the agreement that ended the long and bloody insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. She may have vowed to amend the agreement during the 2001 election campaign because her predecessor and bitter political opponent, Ms Sheikh Hasina Wajed, projected it as a major achievement of her government. The poll fever had also seen Ms Zia vowing to undo the agreement on the sharing of the Ganga water between India and Bangladesh, which too was signed during Ms Wajed’s regime. Obviously, running a government is not the same thing as running an election campaign nor can official policy be held hostage to personal rivalries. The CHT agreement went a long way to end the political alienation of the Chakmas, a Buddhist minority, in a Muslim-majority country. If large sections of the Chakmas had taken to guerrilla warfare, it was because they felt threatened by what they perceived as the policy of successive governments in Dhaka to change the demography of their land.

The peace agreement gave the Chakmas a sense of security and their elected council a fair amount of autonomy. Equally important, it removed a major irritant in India-Bangladesh relations. Dhaka’s battle against militancy in the CHT led to thousands of Chakma refugees crossing the border and taking shelter in Tripura in the latter half of the Eighties. Bangladesh also accused India of aiding the Chakma militants, both logistically and militarily. Just as the peace accord helped the refugees return home, it also closed an unsavoury chapter in relations between the two neighbours. It can be safely predicted that Tripura will see another influx of Chakmas refugees from the CHT if Ms Zia’s government does anything to unsettle the peace agreement. Apart from straining relations with India, such a move will once again expose her government to charges of intolerance to ethnic and religious minorities.

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