Everybody in the three hilly regions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)—Khagrachari, Bandarban, and Rangamati—knows that the Bangladesh army has been working for them. As the army’s importance in societal development in the CHT is now recognized on a global scale, it has become a source of trust and harmony for the people of the region. The army defends the rights of common people in the region on a daily basis.
Chittagong Hill Tracts cover roughly one-tenth of Bangladesh’s land area and are distinct from the rest of Bangladesh. Only one percent of the total population of Bangladesh lives in the three hill districts. The hilly areas of Chittagong were once unprotected. It was a sanctuary for terrorists and extremists. The conflicting activities of the groups often resulted in deaths. After coming to power for the first time in 1996, the then and current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, took the initiative to restore peace there. The CHT peace accord, which is remembered as a success in the history of Bangladesh, was signed on December 2, 1997, following multiple rounds of talks between the government and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity.
Terrorist activities in the hills decreased immediately after this agreement. However, despite the peace accord, militant tribal groups in the hills are still active in creating chaos. There are four factions within the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity, and occasionally they engage in criminal activity. Many places in the hills were undeveloped. Walking was unthinkable. But the army members worked day and night in the hilly areas and revolutionized the communication system there.
In addition to ensuring the stability of the CHT following the peace accord, members of the Bangladesh Army and the BGB have been involved in the socio-economic development of the region’s vast population. They are trying to solve food problems, deliver medical services, and assist poor people to become self-sufficient by providing financial grants, distributing educational materials to poor students, providing clean water to ease the suffering of the locals in remote areas, and setting up small-scale factories for the employment of unemployed individuals.
When people all over the country are busy saving their lives due to COVID-19, members of the Bangladesh army have set an example by bringing people from remote areas of Khagrachari, Bandarban, and Rangamati to hospitals. An epidemic of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases occurred in the remote hilly area of Khagrachhari Sadar Upazila, called Hajapara, a few days ago. After receiving the news that several youths, old women, and children fell seriously ill, the Bangladesh Army rushed there very quickly after walking for several hours on a remote mountain road. A temporary medical camp was constructed there, and 150–160 epidemic patients were treated with the utmost care.
Apart from maintaining peace and order in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Bangladesh Army has been continuously conducting development projects to improve the quality of life of the people living there. According to media reports, in the last 3 years, the Bangladesh Army has distributed winter clothes to more than 50 thousand people in three hill districts under the 24th Infantry Division. In addition, various types of relief materials have been distributed among at least one lakh people, and various financial grants have been given to 20 thousand people. Free eye camps are being conducted regularly. In these eye camps, various types of eye services, including cataract surgery, are provided to the underprivileged elderly mountaineers and Bengalis of remote hilly areas.
Previously, many mountain children died due to measles in the Rangamati and Bandarban areas. The army’s contribution to the humanitarian work of saving the lives of mountaineers affected by measles by risking their own lives and providing fresh water, providing food, conducting temporary medical camps, and managing the treatment of the sick in these affected areas is highly appreciable. At various times, there are instances of pregnant women being brought to CMH from remote areas of the mountains by helicopter and being cured along with giving birth.
The Bangladesh army is seen standing by the hilly people in any disaster. 400 members of 160 families in the Alutila resettlement area of Khagrachari district, a remote hilly area, have been suffering from water problems for a long time. There was no fresh water source. In April 2022, a water tank with a capacity of 10,000 liters was installed by the army. Most recently, a drinking water house was constructed by Mahalchari Sena Zone in the Janglitila area of Golabari Union of Khagrachari Sadar Upazila to solve the long-standing water problem of the local hill community. Following the project’s inception, the local community’s water crisis was resolved, and residents were overwhelmed by the army’s special role.
Change in life
More than 250 educational institutions have been built in the hills in the last three years under the supervision of the army to disseminate the light of education. The army has also stepped up to safeguard religious harmony. Over 220 religious structures have been built in three hill districts in the previous three years. They have taken timely steps toward the mental development of children. Many schools do not have textbooks or other materials. The force distributed a significant number of different types of educational materials, school dresses, and sports materials to the students in various educational institutions.
In order to make the underprivileged people of the hilly areas self-reliant, the army is providing free computers and sewing machines under its own management and providing training in that regard. The backward hill-Bengali women are dreaming of becoming self-reliant now. The Army has been organizing cultural programs on various days every year for the fair entertainment of the people of the remote hilly areas. Their initiatives are paving the way for free thought and cultural practices in Bangladesh’s non-communal society.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts were once dark. However, remote mountains are now blazing with electric light. In the three hill districts, development work is now underway under the supervision of the army. According to ISPR data, road connectivity in the three hill districts was 2,803 km in 1997; today, road connectivity under the supervision of the Army Engineering Corps is 7,949 km. There were only 24 hospital clinics in the three districts prior to the peace accord; presently, more than 270 public-private hospitals and community-level clinics have been constructed. A border road has also been built. All of this has been made possible under the Bangladesh Army’s supervision.
The Guimara Sena Region took the initiative to open a blanket and bag factory in October 2021. Locals in that neighborhood now have jobs thanks to it. Bengali and Pahari people’s ability to sustain their families grew as a result of their employment as laborers. Remote hilly tracts are seeing growth, and marginal farmers are assisting in this development by profiting from the transportation of different fruits and agricultural products from these remote areas.
Fight terrorism and restore peace
In the hilly area, peaceful people are frequently seen in disorder. Armed attacks are conducted by terrorist tribes. Tourists are taken captive. There is extortion and looting. To protect the residents of the highlands from these wrongdoings, army personnel are on duty day and night as vigilantes.
Local sources claim that multiple tribal terrorist groups are holding hundreds of thousands of people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts as hostages. These groups are active in controlling and influencing their individual areas through various sabotage and terrorist activities, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, attacks, and counter-attacks. The annual income of these terrorist groups from various sectors is more than 500 crore takas. More than 700 people have been killed in such conflicts in Khagrachari in the last 20 years. Besides, at least 45 people have died in Rangamati in the last 5 years.
The government has invested thousands of crores of takas in the development of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Yet, these terrorist organizations occasionally hamper the area’s development efforts. Millions of Bengali and hilly people demand that the army camp remain in the designated territories. They claimed that the army’s actions had made the people of the hills much happier than previously. Because the members of this force are genuinely concerned about all Pahari-Bengalis.
In their efforts to bring peace to the Chittagong Hill Tracts, numerous army personnel have perished to date from snakebite, malaria, mosquito bites, and attacks by wild animals. Some people are permanently paralyzed. Armed local terrorists killed several army personnel who were serving their country and making sure the hills’ residents were protected. Since the liberation war in 1971, there have been numerous instances where soldiers have bravely volunteered to defend the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. History and events that are too extensive to be covered in this limited space.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.