This article tries to highlight a significant internal conflict, the CHT conflict, the most discussed conflict in Bangladesh. It gives shots to different perspectives. CHT conflict is related to the ethnic-internal conflict as well as a separatist conflict. And this conflict started a long time ago. This paper seeks to explain this conflict as an internal conflict using conflict analysis tools. All the violence that happened during the Pakistan period after the Independence of Bangladesh till now, has a root cause. All the factors of internal conflict will be discussed alongside the conflict tools to get a better understanding.

Keywords: CHT conflict, internal conflict, conflict analysis, conflict tools.

The issues regarding indigenous people around the world are not new-fangled. So is true for Bangladesh. They are tormented long before of the independence of Bangladesh. To be fair to them, all the governments from time to time has not been so helpful. For that it has always been considered as an ethno-internal conflict. From the 19th Century, the Bengali people- dominant ethnic group of Bangladesh – started settling in the highland regions, thereby bringing about a considerable change in the demography of the region. Currently, the population of the Bengalis is equal to that of the indigenous Jumma people. The origins of conflict in CHT region can be traced to the administrative neglect and the denial of land rights to the indigenous ethnic groups. There is not only an ethnical difference between the indigenous community and the local people. But there are other factors that sparks the conflict. Such as – land alienation problem, under developed area, lack of proper education, and most importantly militarization of the area. In this paper all of these will be discussed from various perspective. By using conflict tools it will be easier to reflect the core problems related to this conflict. Conflict analysis is being used to get a practical and rational idea of the CHT conflict. It has been an issue for the government for a really long time. It is expected that there will be a practical solution to this conflict.

In brief, conflict is a relationship between two or more interdependent parties in which at least one of the parties perceives the relationship to be negative and pursues opposing interests and needs. Conflict analysis is actually a practical process of examining and understanding the reality of the conflict from various perspectives. It then forms the basis of strategies that helps to develop an action plan. Conflict analysis is the systematic study of the profile, causes, actors, and dynamics of conflict. It helps development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding organizations to gain a better understanding of the context in which they work and their role in that context.

Conflict analysis: Conflict analysis is done by some tools and techniques. Although these tools are not the rigid one it is encouraged to adapt. It is sometimes seen as requiring objectivity and neutrality rather than personal experience and strong emotion. But this is not it. Conflict analysis can be far more than just to analyze theoretically. As mentioned earlier, it can provide valuable tactics to solve or transform conflict in the future.

There are different types of conflict. It can be internal conflict, interstate conflict, intrastate conflict, interpersonal conflict, intrapersonal conflict, structural, latent, and many others. To analyze different types of conflict there are different types of conflict tools. To go for further discussion, we need to know the importance of conflict analysis. We use it to understand the background and history of the situation as well as the current impacts of the conflict. To identify all the relevant groups involved in that conflict other than the direct or main parties. It also shows us the relationship between the parties. By analyzing a conflict, the prominent factors and trends of the conflict come out. The benefits of conflict analysis are not limited. It helps thinking about how programs are going to work in conflict-affected contexts.

Tools for conflict analysis:

There are several types of generating conflict tools. These are equally important to analyze a conflict and get a complete understanding. After discussing the tools, a realistic example will be given for a better understanding of the conflict. Not all the tools will be used here. Three tools will be discussed here. These are:

  • The onion model,
  • The Conflict tree, and
  • The force field analysis.

Before going into the details of anything, the background of the conflict is really important to understand. The example which is used here is based on the ethnic internal conflicts. From the perspective of Bangladesh, there are many internal conflicts. These can be political, social, economic, cultural, and many others. To analyze a few conflict tools, a political internal conflict is selected.

History and Timeline of CHT Conflict: Bangladesh has always been through many conflicts after her independence in 1971. Since then to now, we have seen it riddled with many internal conflicts followed by terrorist attacks, radical Islamist, and Communist attacks. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is situated in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh. This is the only extensive hilly area in Bangladesh lying by the side of Myanmar in the southeast, the Indian state Tripura on the north, and Mizoram in the east and Chittagong district in the west. This hilly area covers about 13,184 km2, which is approximately one-tenth of the total area of Bangladesh. This is counted as one of the most significant parts of the country because of its geographic location. This is important as geopolitically. This southeastern part of the country consists of three districts: Rangamati, Khagrachari, and Bandarban. This large part of the country consists of only 1% of the total population which is 1.3 million and 90% of them live in rural areas. The unique factor of this area is, this is the place of maximum indigenous people. About 45 different ethnic groups live here. (Roy, 2012)

This significant area involved in a conflict when Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan. It all began with the construction of the Kaptai dam, which caused 100,000 native displacements in 1962. Not only this, they did not receive compensation from the government or any kind of help for resettlement. After that, they moved to the more intense area and to the dense forest for a living. In the 1970s and 80s, during the regime of Ziaur Rahman, the government started to resettle the area with Bengali people displacing the inhabitants who lived there for centuries. They felt threatened by their way of life. The hill tribes then resisted forming a guerrilla group named ‘Shanti Bahini’ with the latent help of the neighboring states. As a result of the tribal resistance movement, successive governments turned the Hill Tracts into a militarized zone.  Following years of unrest, an accord was signed between the government and the party of the tribal people in 1997. But this was not the end. The conflict which began in 1962 with the construction of Kaptai Dam, had a great impact on the environment of that area, which caused a serious and surprising change to the environmental life and on the peoples’ lives which cannot be avoided. This conflict can be recognized as an ethnic conflict, and identity conflict, and also a resource-based conflict but deep-rooted it can be recognized as an environmental conflict in general.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts conflict was a political and armed conflict between the government of Bangladesh and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts) and its armed wing, the Shanti Bahini, over the issue of autonomy and the rights of the Buddhist Jumma people, Chakma people and tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The liberation war in its overall impact failed to create conditions for improved relationships between the new government of Bangladesh and the CHT tribes. Since 1972, it soon became evident that, quite apart from the unwillingness of the Awami government to grant such constitutional concessions, it had made “total integration of the tribal areas” part and parcel of national development policy. Even in the early 1970s, by which time a considerable movement of the plains’ people into the tribal area had already occurred, the CHT, with an average population density of less than 50 per square kilometer (compared to the Bangladeshi average of over 500), was the only part of the country that had large tracts of land lying idle or under-utilized in agriculture, and the only part with a physical base for hydropower development (Peiris, 2016).

CHT Conflict from different perspectives: Since the beginning of this conflict, it has been analyzed from many perspectives. It has been considered as an ethnic-internal conflict, as a separatist, or as a secessionist conflict. Discussing the factors behind the conflicts will make it easier to further apply the conflict tools and analyze it from a different perspective. The factors are:

  • Structural factor
  • Political factors
  • Economic or social factors
  • Cultural or perceptual factors

Structural factor: There are three main structural factors:

  • Weak states
  • Intra-state security concerns and
  • Ethnic geography.

When a state system is weak, they lack political legitimacy, politically sensible borders, and political institutions capable of exercising meaningful control over the territory placed under their normal supervision. First, when the CHT conflict began with the displacement of 100,000 native ethnic people, the government could not show meaningful governance over the territory and the people. Many people died. This decision made them vulnerable but still, they did not take any action in favor of the sufferers. Second, when there is a weak system, an ethnic group of people who have been oppressed by the central authorities, tries to seek autonomy. Individual groups feel compelled to provide their own defense. When the intra-state security system faces a dilemma, then the ethnic group seeks its own defense. After the incident in CHT, ethnic groups over there felt to comprise their own defense and security. Thus it began at the first point. The incentives for groups to make independent military preparations grew as time went by. Arms dealing from neighboring states began. Third, the most important sub-factor of structural factor is the ethnic geography. States with ethnic minorities are more prone to internal conflicts. In the CHT area, near about 45 different minority or ethnic groups live. Certain kinds of ethnic demographics are more problematic and complicated than others. No wonder, why the CHT conflict cannot be resolved till now.

Political factor: Considering many scholarly speculation, there are four types of political factors. They are:

  • Discriminatory political institutions,
  • Exclusionary national ideologies,
  • Inter-group politics and
  • Elite politics.

 Insomuch as the CHT conflict, discriminatory political institutions and exclusionary national ideologies hold a strong point for fueling this internal conflict. From 1962 to afterward, many government regimes came to power. Bangladesh became independent. But no government tried to compensate for the loss. It fueled the conflict. They felt discriminated in contrast to the majority of the people. Discriminatory political institutions made them realized that they were different. Then the exclusionary political ideologies. It is said that much depends on the nature of the prevailing national ideologies in the country in question. When Bangladesh got independent, it became a country of ‘Bengali’ people. But it excluded other ethnic nationalistic groups. It would have been preferable if it was considered as ‘Bangladeshi’. It compelled them to feel that they were different. Thus national ideology or nationalism became another issue of CHT as an internal conflict.

Economic or Social factor: Three broad economic and social factors have been identified as potential sources of conflict. These are:

  • Economic problems,
  • Discriminatory economic systems, and
  • The trials and tribulations of economic development and modernization.

Most countries face economic problems sooner or later. This creates intra-state tensions. Economic tensions can lead to social frustrations, as all the basic needs and substantial needs for a living will get frustrated; this leads to an internal conflict within the state. Bangladesh is a developing country. It faces economic problems every year. When the majority of the people get frustrated about their economic situation, then no wonder ethnic minority people will also get frustrated. As hill tracts been the most suitable place for ethnic people, their living depends on that area. But Jhum cultivation was frustrated for many reasons, which held the back of the resolution of this conflict. Other than that, ethnic minority people feel that they are discriminated from the majority of the people in the economic sector. They cannot get similar facilities living up in a different region, considering the modernization. Although now the government has given the facility of the current “Quota” system for their increased involvement in the economy and every other sector of life. But there are some hindrances. Such as- the process of economic development and modernization causes migration, urbanization. This brought some changes to the CHT area. That led to a social disorder and instability.

Cultural or Perceptual factor: Two types of cultural or perceptual factors have been identified in the scholarly literature as sources of internal conflict. Firstly, cultural discrimination against minorities. This problem includes inequitable educational opportunities, legal and political constraints on the use and teaching of minority languages, and constraints on religious freedom. The minority people living in the CHT area have been facing these problems ever since before. Although the government is trying to help it but not at its fullest form. Secondly, group histories and group perceptions of themselves and others. It is quite normal that one group may have a hatred perception against another. May be any incident from the distant past caused a serious ‘ancient hatreds’. They may have legitimate grievances. If we discuss this, the minorities living in the CHT area have many perceptual hatreds against the majority. The settler disputes caused a serious breakdown in their social life. They had a different local governance system which got disrupted completely. No wonder why they got the string of the conflict after so many years. After the displacement of 100,000 natives, there was no compensation, many people lost their relatives and this created a hatred-ness. And then the settler dispute just spurred the conflict and hatred more to a context.

The onion model has three layers. These layers represent different types of interests and perspectives of the conflict. The onion model has been used to identify the positions, interests, and needs of each party. It also helped to identify possible common areas of divergence in the interests or needs of parties. It built a comprehensive picture of each party’s positions, interests, and needs of the CHT conflict. The outer layer consists of the positions that we take publicly. The second layer is interests. That means what we want to achieve from a particular situation. Finally, at the core are the most important needs we require to be satisfied. The figure shows it better.

Indigenous people in CHT are concerned about their rights. If we discuss this from the perspective of onion layers, then in the first layer is what they want. It is the indigenous peasant organizations. Such as the Shanti Bahini. Against the government militarization, they demanded their autonomy, their right to equal opportunities, and legal rights of their own.

In the second layer of interests, when the settlers were occupying their territories their land was redistributed. They wanted to have their own life, land back. Not only when the settlers came in but the ‘Kaptai Dam’ was built on their lands and they never got any compensation for that. They want justice, respect for human rights by keeping alliances with other social forces. At last, it is ‘self-determination’ that they really want. The group of indigenous people has a territory, their shared culture, a common language, and other traditional factors. The indigenous people of CHT fill all the criteria of being a group. Self-determination embodies the right for all people to determine their own economic, social, and cultural development. Self-determination has thus been defined as their own economic, social, and cultural development. It is important to stress that for indigenous peoples the term self-determination does most often not imply a secession from the state. But in this case, they wanted freedom from oppression, inequalities, safety, peace, and secure life.

The conflict tree model and CHT Conflict: This conflict tool has been widely used for analyzing conflicts within groups. Using this tool we will be able to identify the core problems, root causes, the effects of the conflict, and the most important issues to address for the group. So to simplify, there are three categories: 1. The core problem, 2. Causes, and 3. Effects.

The above figure shows the causes, effects, and core problem of a conflict between groups. CHT conflict is not different from this. The underlying causes are more or less the same. The two groups – government and indigenous group at different times clashed. It led to the unequal development of the indigenous group, unequal economy, less developed. The colonial boundaries were also collapsed. The lack of freedom and equity of the indigenous group made the peace more questionable.

As discussed earlier that the whole conflict began with the building of a dam. This caused a land alienation problem. They were not aware of this and after that in the CHT area, there were several occurrences of conflict at different times regarding their land. Physical and sexual violence against Indigenous women is used as a tool of fear and coercion to facilitate eviction and land-grabbing. Policies to protect women, such as the 2011 National Women’s Development Policy, do not adequately include Indigenous women and therefore do not adequately protect them. This particular policy only refers to Indigenous women by calling them members of “backward and small ethnic groups.” (National Women Development Policy, 2011) A lack of land rights leaves Indigenous women more vulnerable in situations of violence.

As a result, the effects were dangerous. There was fear of life, looting, raiding, unfair representation, hatred, and suspicion, killing all over the area. This was not supposed to happen. There are other serious incidents that reflect that indigenous people are not safe in their area. There were several incidences of kidnapping, beating, rape, and looting. To go into the details of the incidents is beyond the capacity of the paper.

The force field analysis model and CHT Conflict: This conflict tool is used to identify different forces influencing a conflict. There are always some positive and negative forces that influence a conflict. Whenever there is a chance of bringing change by action there will be forces that either supporting or hindering what is there to achieve. This tool offers a way to identify these positive and negative forces and trying to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

From the above figure, it is clear that which forces can influence the conflict in a positive or negative way. In this tool, what has been tried to reflect is that how the CHT can conflict can be managed. But to reach the end, these forces might get in the way. For example, proper policies for land alienation can bring peace. The assurance of territory of the indigenous people won’t be taken away can fix the core problem. But again there is a negative force like the dispute between the settlers and the indigenous community that will hinder the peace process. Legal forces can be built to protect the community and build trust. But the militarization of the particular area has developed fear in the local people and trusting military forces is not something as easy for the indigenous people as they faced many violent incidents.

Another positive force can be local governance. The indigenous people of CHT have a local government but there is a lack of trust among them. And a completely separate local government is the negative force that is building fear into the government. The government is thinking that giving separate local governance will be the beginning of a secessionist movement asking for full autonomy. A peaceful agreement between the local community and the government can help to stabilize the conflictual situation. But if the agreement does not address all the issues or demands of the indigenous people, it won’t be sustainable. And a less sustainable peace agreement can lead to more internal conflicts. At last, if we want peace between the indigenous community of CHT and the government then, both parties have to keep it in mind that there are both positive and negative forces. They need to come to a conclusion where the negative forces have the least impact on the peace agreement.

CHT conflict in Bangladesh has a long history. Even after the 1997 peace agreement, the community could not find peace and faced various discrimination all these years. The conflict tools here helped to analyze the conflict from a deeper and different perspective. Through this analysis, it is clear what factors are influencing the conflict at the root level. All these three tools of conflict analysis reflected different areas of the conflict. The main purpose of this analysis was to find a practical solution to this conflict and help to have a better future for the indigenous community in CHT.


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