The Naniarchar upazila chairman in Rangamati, Shaktiman Chakma, was shot dead in front of his office on Thursday. Another five persons were killed in an armed attack on the way to his funeral the next day. This brings the number of killings up to 18 during the past five months of violence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Will the unrest in the hills never come to an end?
Shaktiman Chakma had been the vice president of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (MN Larma) central committee. The organisation states that this was a pre-planned killing by the United People’s Democratic Front of UPDF. UPDF denies this, saying it was either the outcome of conflict within Jana Sanghati Samity or an attempt by a third party to destabilise the circumstances. A thorough investigation into the matter is imperative to sort out these accusations and counter-accusations, as well as to identify the actual killers.
The question is how and why does this violence and killing take place in the presence of the police, RAB and the armed forces? Are there shortcomings in the performance of the security forces when it comes to ensuring pace and stability in the hills?
It had been hoped that peace would be permanently established in the region after the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts peace deal. But there have been differences of opinion over the agreement, with UPDF standing firmly against it. Despite an improvement in relations between the hill people and and the non-hill settlers, conflict erupted amongst different factions within the hill people themselves. A few hundred died in clashes revolving around this conflict in 2015. Then an understanding among three main organisations of Chittagong Hill Tracts calmed the situation down.
Then violence broke out once again in the hills with the emergence of a new organisation - UPDF Gonotantrik.
The social, political, cultural, and economic situation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts is very different from that of the rest of the country. The issue of peace and public safety is not just a matter of law and order control there. Social and cultural coexistence requires a mindset of peace and solidarity. This was the positive outcome of the understanding among three organisations in 2015.
It would be possible to improve the overall situation by fully implementing the peace deal. However, there is more to the ongoing violence. There is the power tussle among the hill organisations. Rather than ideological or cultural compulsions, the motives behind such power play are economic. There are allegations of extensive extortion and ‘toll’ collecting in Chittagong Hill Tracts. The wider the reach of an organisation, the more it earns through its toll collections. Such cut-throat competitions often result in violence and even death.
The system of implementing the law in the Chittagong Hill Tracts needs to be more efficient, honest, active and effective. An understanding must be forged among all the conflicting groups. And, most importantly, overall good governance must be established.