The Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh is a troubled region. A great deal of international attention has lately been lavished on the place. The issue is one of the violation of the rights of the indigenous people - there are 11 tribes which are non-Muslim and mostly Mongoloid and largely Buddhist.
At the heart of the problem lies nationalism. In 1971, Bangladesh was born after a bloody civil war as a Bengali nation. Bengali nationalism was largely a spurious one - the majority of the people of Bangladesh are totally unaware of any Bengali identity. The creation of Bangladesh was purely an elite phenomenon.
Nevertheless, the Chakma leaders of the Hill Tracts took fright at our nationalism - understandably so. One nationalism begets another (one is reminded of how French nationalism begot German nationalism). They wanted autonomy, which they were denied.
They resorted to armed insurrection, aided and abetted by India . In 1980, General Zia pressganged Bengalis from the streets of the cities and settled them in the Hill Tracts. Each 'settler' was given 5 acres of khas - government - land. Now, the indigenous people had been using these lands for slash and burn cultivation for generations. However, they have no title deeds, so the areas were deemed to be 'government land'.
Both sides committed appalling atrocities (the atrocities of the army and Bengali settlers are heavily documented, that of the indigenous people's army - the Shanti Bahini - hardly receives mention.) Despite military protection, the Shanti Bahini killed 1054 settlers; reprisals followed.
A peace treaty was finally signed between the JSS (the political arm of the Bahini) and the Awami League government in 1997. It was hailed by the League, the JSS and the international donor community. As one western observer commented: "The accord, by and large, has been accepted by the peoples of the region and by the donor community as well."
Certainly, the peace accord - or treaty, as it is called -- has been accepted with enthusiasm by the donors. The people of the Hill Tracts have no illusions about the fact that a gigantic hoax has been played on them. I have been there several times, and have spoken with the hill people.