Total Pageviews

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Role of the army in Chittagong Hill Tracts

Author / Source : Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Al Mamun, psc, G

Part I

14 Nov, 2011



Please consult this post for opposite opinion:

‘After about ten years I visited Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) on professional assignments. Then I recollected the philosophical remarks of one of the earliest philosophers Heraclitus of 5th century BC, ‘Everything flows’. This is considered to be one of the absolute truths.

History suggests that many a times, even major changes were not discernable to the most. Likewise, to me the most surprising and major changes were in the information domain as regards the CHT. Recently Lieutenant Colonel Kirti Ranjan Chakma (retd), an ex-soldier criticized the Bangladesh government and our Army on this issue in the UN which frustrates us. Therefore, I feel obliged to share my experiences of CHT from a soldier’s stand point. Lieutenant Colonel Kirti Ranjan Chakma, a retired officer of the Bangladesh Army, on 27 May 2011 said to UN, “The army was given an absolute authority to control the affairs in the CHT. The political government of Bangladesh is practically powerless to decide anything related to CHT. Continued heavy presence of the army contributes to human rights violations in the entire region. We also hear of the involvement of the Army in backing Bengali settlers in their attempts to grab Indigenous Peoples’ land. For peace to be sustained and prevailed in the CHT, it is necessary that the army should be withdrawn immediately from all temporary camps mounted all over the CHT.”

I humbly disagree with him and I want to clarify as under the definition of human rights: The abstract concept of ‘Human Rights’ has been a subject of intense philosophical debate and criticism. As per Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’

The former Prime Ministers of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad both claimed in the 1990s that Asian values were significantly different from Western ones. They emphasized the sense of loyalty and foregoing personal freedoms for the sake of social stability and prosperity.

Chinese people believe in ensuring of basic rights of life and believe state law is the best way of manitence of ‘Human Rights.’ Therefore, when China destroys some one or two storied buildings in villages or small towns to create more cultivable lands and complete multi-storied modern living areas, Westerns may term it as ‘Human Rights’ violation. On the other hand Chinese people comment : ‘Bravo’. Many Chinese believed that due to strong motivation and social rules, people used to sleep at night keeping the doors open during the Confucian Era.

As a whole the subject is based on the perceptions and mostly it goes towards the scholars’ side.
Whether continued military presence in CHT has contributed to human rights violation or not ?
No, Bangladesh Army was never a cause of human rights violation, rather they restored it. As the history indicates, in 1947, during the partition, prominent Chakma leaders opted to be the part of India. During the Liberation War in 1971, they again supported Pakistan.

Of course, in 1971, there were as many as 197 tribal freedom fighters -reportedly from Tripura and Marma tribes. Raja Tridip Roy, the father of Raja Debashish Roy, King of Chakma Circle still lives in Pakistan. After the victory, the Father of the Nation excusing their stance against the mainstream society, requested them to work together with commoners (Bangalee), but they revolted.

They took up arms against the legitimate government of Bangladesh. Chakma dominated ‘Shanti Bahini’ tried to beef up the organization by intimidation, coercion and forced others to join them undermining their own personal choices.

Now question is who did violate the human rights? ‘Bangladesh Army’ or ‘Shanti Bahini’? Definitely it is ‘Shanti Bahini’. Again, as per the statement of Mr Nadim Quadir who visited Liberia recently, the record of Bangladesh Army is different. According to him, President Sirleaf of Liberia stated "The Bangladeshi troops have played a commendable role not only in peacekeeping but also in activities for the welfare of the common people."

"Your soldiers have never violated human rights; they are not linked to any incident of exploitation”. This was said by Lieutenant General Isaac Obiakor, the UN Force Commander in Liberia. James K Sumo, a student of the University of Liberia, said, " Bangladeshi soldiers never misbehave with our women.”

Whether the army was given absolute authority to control the affairs of CHT or not ?
No, Army is deployed to perform the ‘In Aid to Civil Administration’ duties. However, due to difficult terrain conditions, remoteness of the habitation area and dangers of living, the army sometimes cannot operate effectively. Moreover, in the military, the operational achievements add to the credit of officers and men.

Therefore, they feel proud to ‘command’ and work professionally, honestly and courageouesly. Possibly that is the reason that only Bangldesh Army could contribute so much for the upliftment of the tribals. So far 510 kilometer roads were built in inaccessible areas and other development projects were completed.

Moreover, many government and non-government organizations are functional in CHT. They help the local law enforcing agencies to maintain law and order situtaion. In fact in CHT, Bangladesh Army sacrificed the most in terms of death, malaria, disease and other inconveniences. Therefore, it is significant to note that no army personnel enjoy their stay in the camps of CHT. But they simply obey the decision of the republic--the people in the classical sense.

Whether the army authority is providing support to the Bangalee settlers to grab tribal people’s lands or not ? No, a professional Army can never do it. But the reality is that settlers are minorities in CHT and out of ‘minority syndrome’ they rush to the military camps. Therefore, out of prejudice, simple tribal may have the idea that ‘Army is with settlers,’ which is not at all true.

However, many elderly tribals have rigid stance that CHT is only for them and the Bangladesh government should take Bangalees away from their holy land. Interestingly, they could never answer on the question that if ‘the people of Dhaka or other cities want to uproot the tribals from their areas what would happen to them?’

Finally to Colonel Kirti :
We are very lucky that we could become commissioned officers of a sovereign country due to the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. This poor country has given us respectful lives despite many limitations. People and the country have much expectation from us. We are also proud of you as you were awarded Tagma-I-Jang due to your valiant service in Pakistani defence forces. Therefore, your claims at UN on 27 May 2011 against your beloved army really disillusions us-- the people. Should you have any complaint about your Army where you served for 25 years, let us go for a debate or talk show in television so that whole world can witness. Because people of this republic pay for our upkeep and we need to justify our every step during our service and even after retirement. I am confident, if the UN evaluates us by the records of HIV infections, dealing with women and children, humanitarian activities, etc., our Army will be the best.

The writer is a General Staff Officer in Army Headquarters

Role of the army in Chittagong Hill Tracts

A vision inspired by the Marshall Plan

Part II

15 Nov, 2011


In my previous article (Part-1), I wrote on the basic claims of a respected retired officer--Lieutenant Colonel Kirti Ranjan Chakma-- who reported to the UN Headquarters on 27 May 2011. I clarified my position on his unjust claims which was published in the Daily Sun on 14 July. Now, let me inform the respected readers and scholars about certain dreams, emanating from great histories of development and my experiences on CHT. It may also substantiate the philosophical remarks of Immanuel Kant –‘Sapere aude! (in Latin) which means ‘Have the courage to use your own reason!’ It was the battle cry of the enlightenment.

I first learnt about late General George Catlett Marshall, 15th Chief of Staff of US Army in the Bangladesh Military Academy (BMA) from my Platoon Commander. I also re-read him from my father who studied in history in university and during my professional courses at home and abroad.

History indicates that he was the 50th Secretary of State and the 3rd Secretary of Defense of USA. This American military leader, an infantryman, was noted as the ‘Organizer of Victory’ by Winston Churchill for his leadership in the course of the Allied victory in World War II.

Marshall also served as the Chief Military Adviser to democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the war and he served under another democrat President- Harry S Truman, an ex-artillery (another soldier) officer. During his long military career General Marshall fought in World War I and II and received distinguished Service Medal and Silver Star. He was the first five-star General of the US Army.

A book titled ‘Infantry in Battle’ was written by him which was the officers’ guide to infantry combat operations during the World War II. Marshall directed production of the book which is still used as a reference today. Marshall was again named TIME's ‘Man of the Year for 1947’ and received the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘The Marshall Plan’ in 1953. He was the only US Army General to have received this honour and he died as a democrat.

The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was the large-scale American programme to aid Europe where the US sent monetary support to help rebuild European economies in order to combat the spread of communism. General Marshall gave the address to the graduating class of Harvard University on June 5, 1947. The speech described the dysfunction of the European economy and presented a rationale for US aid.

The plan was in operation for four years beginning in April 1948. The goals of the US were to rebuild a war-devastated region, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and make Europe prosperous again. For all Marshall Plan recipients, output in 1951 was at least 35% higher than in 1938.

Over the next two decades, Western Europe enjoyed unprecedented growth and prosperity. The Marshall Plan was one of the first elements of European integration, as it erased trade barriers and set up institutions to coordinate the economy on a continental level—that is, it stimulated the total political reconstruction of Western Europe.

Belgian economic historian Herman Van der Wee concludes the Marshall Plan was a "great success":

"It gave a new impetus to reconstruction in Western Europe and made a decisive contribution to the renewal of the transport system, the modernization of industrial and agricultural equipment, the resumption of normal production, the raising of productivity, and the facilitating of intra-European trade."

Why do we need a ‘Marshall Plan’ type mechanism for a peaceful CHT? To define simply, ‘human rights’ are "rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled" and the same are for establishing peace. By the 21st century, Moyn has argued, the human rights movement expanded beyond its original anti-totalitarianism confines to include numerous causes involving humanitarianism and social and economic development or advancement in the Third World.

No doubt the context in the CHT falls under that category. The tribal people are poor, they still lack proper education, health and motivation for ‘Bangladeshi Nationalism’. They were and are still simple but they may become more complicated in future due to ‘false promises and misinformation ’.

Therefore, it needs a delicate, honest and professional addressing of these issues by those who have those virtues. And here, the ‘Marshall Plan’ arrives both symbolically and meaningfully. Symbolically, it refers to historical proof where plan by a General was awarded with Nobel Prize.
Besides, meaning of ‘Marshalling Point and Area’ is a pre-start point of any sports events and crossing operation respectively. Thus, meaningfully it is correct. However, though it was never war, only it was an insurgency problem which was manageable for Bangladesh. However, the perceived ‘complex challenges’ in CHT needs to be analyzed and addressed very carefully.

The writer is a General Staff Officer First Grade in Army Headquarters

Role of the army in Chittagong Hill Tracts

concluding PART

16 Nov 2011.


The peace accord for CHT was singed in 1997 and honourable Prime Minister (PM), Sheikh Hasina, was awarded the UNESCO prize in 1998 for that. Though with the passage of time, the issue has become much challenging, yet I am sanguine that it is very well possible to establish peace and enhance development in CHT.

To do so, we need a concerted plan for its development. Because, the people of CHT need special care and the region has potentials that needs to be utilized ‘for the people and by the people’ in the clear democratic spirit of Abraham Lincoln, an ex-American President and a soldier who fought two wars before conceptualizing it. However, the matter is national and strategic, not military alone. Before arriving at the relevant parts, let me describe the meaning of ‘soldier’ as any military-man interprets. The word ‘soldier’ refers to sincerity (s), obedience (o), loyalty (l), discipline (d), integrity (i), efficiency (e) and Regularity (r).

It is worth mentioning that such a ‘soldier’ is not only from the military society, but also from all spheres of society who are respected by the people of mainstream society and who truly loves the country selflessly. However, few other related theories may be pertinent to consult for formulating the plan for CHT.

For example, Chinese military thinker and theorist Sun Zu says “Winning a victory and subduing the enemy without fighting is the highest excellence. War is not for slaughter; if you win without fighting, the way you can do so is the greatest military strategy”.

Whereas, Carl von Clausewitz, an ex-soldier defined war as a political act. Many theorists interpret the trinity as military, people and government. His philosophical explanation on war may hold good in future also. He says, “War is, therefore, not only a true chameleon, because it changes its nature in some degree in each particular case, but it is also, as a whole, in relation to the predominant tendencies which are in it, a wonderful trinity, composed of the original violence of its elements, hatred and animosity, which may be looked upon as blind instinct; of the play of probabilities and chance, which make it a free activity of the soul; and of the subordinate nature of a political instrument, by which it belongs purely to the reason.

The first of these three phases concerns more the people; the second more the general and his army (military); the third more the government.” Since the war and/or challenges are threats to ‘human rights’ and the military is the serious and demanding profession, we must consider and re-consider present socio-politico-military realities.

Therefore, some aspects of Discovery of Bangladesh written by one of our respected scholars--Doctor Akbar Ali Khan-- is important. The author was awarded Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Gold Medal for the book as it was adjudged the most outstanding work in the arts and humanities by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.

Some of the significant research products (conclusions) are described bellow:
“---One of the recurrent themes of the study is that grass-root institutions in Bangladesh region had been historically weak. This implies that local governments in this region were never well-organized. Lawrence Ziring described Bangladesh as an “anachronism within anachronism” which are just reactions to past mistakes and warned that the real Bangladesh is yet to emerge.

The energetic individualism that characterized historically the people in this region had nurtured a social milieu which is antagonistic to institutional development. The real challenge before the people of Bangladesh today was well expressed in a verse attributed to the fifteenth century poet Chandidas: Garon Bhangite Pare Achhe Kato Khal Bhangiya Gorite Pare Je Jon Biral( There are many knaves who can destroy structure. Rare indeed is the person who can rebuild the ruins---Discovery of Bangladesh page 153-157)”

Why army? If so, how can they be utilized? Worldwide, military training institutions (including BMA), provide training which is based on history of success and victory of nations and various heroes. Moreover, the source of inspirations of an officer normally stems from the dictums, maxims and golden words of the leaders and generals where the generalship is portrayed with heavenly spirit.

Therefore, ‘The word impossible is not in my dictionary’ as stated by Napoleon Bonaparte. Moreover the military training is based on natural law whose content is set by nature and is, thus, universal.

As described before that the CHT matter is strategic. Therefore, all stakeholders to be on board professionally. Bangladesh Army had been experienced in CHT since 70s. Many generals both retired and serving of ours started their career in CHT and served there almost in all ranks.

Many of them walked many thousands kilometers in the CHT. Due to emotional attachment with the locals for prolonged stay, they also feel like contributing to the mainstream tribal society and their emotion is also absolutely eternal.

Secondly, an army with a vast experience of preparing a national identity (NID) cards and of peacekeeping operations in UN, can support people’s decision at CHT. Logic for such assignment must substantiate the Samuel P. Huntington’s assumptions as he says, “the military officers play a highly modernizing and progressive role. They challenge oligarchy, and they promote social and economic reform, national integration, and, the extension of political participation. They assail waste, backwardness, and corruption, and they introduce into the society highly middle class ideas of efficiency, honesty and national loyalty.” (The Clash of Civilization? Asian Response, p 44). Otherwise it may frustrate the people and situation may turn worse.

Finally, to create another historic event in CHT we must look for ‘soldiers’ in generic sense as described before. Notably we need to draw a bottom-line between discipline and over-democracy and meaning of human rights in the CHT perspective. To do so we need to define and identify the noble, honest, dedicated professionals and scholars who believe like Confucius: ‘Sincerity and truth are the basis of every virtue’ as General Marshall did for the Americans.

This plan may also be presented to the new scholars of university students as General Marshall did to the Harvard graduates. Possibly days are ahead when a ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ may travel to the top leaderships of Bangladesh and its ‘soldiers’. Let us work together and hope for the best.

The writer is a General Staff Officer First Grade in Army Headquarters

Following posts/sites could be viewed for getting an opposite view:

UN News & Media webcast:

Al Jazeera report:

UN Geneva on ECOSOC’s adoption of UNPFII move:

No comments:

Post a Comment