Securitisation of tourism in CHT

  • Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan

Editor’s Note: The article titled ‘Securitisation of tourism in CHT’ was published in New Age on 12 June 2015. Due to its relevance, the article is re-published in the blog, thanks to the author.

New Age asked Dr. Tanzimuddin Khan what he thought of the Home Ministry’s circulars (January 7, 2015, and March 22, 2015) which, while emphasising the attraction deshi and bideshi tourists feel for the natural beauty of Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban, simultaneously proposed measures for ensuring their `security’: tourists need travel permission, they need to submit detailed travel schedules and routes to concerned ministries, security forces should collect information about foreign tourists, check posts and field-level monitoring need to be strengthened etc..

Dr. Tanzimuddin Khan

THESE measures clearly speak of the securitisation of tourism in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), but we must not view the process in isolation from global trends. To contextualize what is happening, one must take into cognizance new global trends which emerged recently in two sectors: the tourism industry, and forest and biodiversity conservation.

The first trend of securitisation emerged in response to the terrorist bombings in the popular tourist destinations of Bali (Indonesia), and Mombasa (Kenya) in 2002.  These two incidents, coupled with the memory of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York in 2001, is still fresh in the minds of people all over the world. These attacks have led to an on-going global securitisation process; the notions of `risk assessment,’ `risk management,’ `danger’ etc., are integral to this process, these notions have helped develop and legitimise the adoption of counter-terrorism measures. These measures include various training programmes, and the coordinated and joint policing of the tourism industry by the government, industry and commercial circles.

The second trend of securitisation has emerged in the forestry and biodiversity sector, this has chiefly happened due to two reasons. The first reason stems from the “neoliberalisation of nature” by states through the implementation of forest conservation programmes, such as, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). Liberals assume that REDD+ can work, all it needs is more governance, more money, and a bit more stakeholder and community participation, they want to overlook the fact that REDD+ “supports the domination of nature by humans for economic profit.”1 And this, of course, means supporting carbon trading, economic valuation and commoditisation of forest and other on-ground and underground natural resources.

The second reason is traceable to the operation of criminal syndicates in partnership with ‘terrorist’ organisations, such as, al-Shabaab (Somalia) and Lord’s Resistance Army (Uganda) in Africa and elsewhere, to control forest resources.  According to a joint report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL, al-Shabaab’s annual income from “brokering the trade in illegal charcoal” amounts to US$ 56 million.2 And, as research reveals, intensified law enforcement of global agencies has led nation-states to enforce property rights, to restrict access to resources, in brief, it has led to a resurgence of state control, with states now claiming their re-regulatory role as manager of land and territory.

Photographer: Denim Chakma

This tendency, i.e., of re-regulating/re-territorialising, is now finding its expression in the militarization of forest and biodiversity conservation. The most prominent is the Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests (LEAF) project, a climate initiative consortium, which forges a partnership between INTERPOL and the UNEP, with financial support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). The LEAF project aims to capture criminal networks which are responsible for illegal logging and the destruction of biodiversity because these acts threaten the livelihood of forest-dependent people, and can cause climate change which can propel a country towards instability and insecurity. But, as scholars point out, sweeping definitions of illegality not only ignore customary land rights, they can assist the state in marginalising local communities.3 Bangladesh is currently implementing the USAID-funded Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL) project (previously known as Nishorgo/Integrated Protected Areas Conservation) in almost all of the  protected forests and wetland (haor) areas. An 18-member-task force has been formed to conserve and protect forests, wildlife resources, and biodiversity, and interestingly, the task force’s composition mirrors the global trend of securitisation of naturally-resourced areas, for it includes the Principal Staff Officer of the Bangladesh Army, the Inspector General of Police, the Director Generals of Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB), Coast Guards, Ansar-VDP (Village Defence Party), and Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), among others.

In this context, i.e., the global trend toward securitisation of the tourism industry post-9/11, and of forest areas, the Home Ministry’s restrictions on the entry and movement of local and foreign tourists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, seem ominous.  But before discussing the circulars, I want to draw attention to phenomena which complicate the situation in the CHT,

a) the unabated influx of Rohyinga people from Myanmar, regarded as posing a ‘security threat’ to Bangladesh

b) although Bangladesh abstained from adopting the United Nations Declaration on the  Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), which is a legally non-binding document, fear exists in policymaking circles that local communities might officially declare themselves ‘indigenous’ and secede from the ‘nation-state’. The January 7 circular caustically remarks, “Although they are divided on other matters all local tribal organisations are united on this point.”

c) the government’s violation of the provisions of the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord: the proliferation of securitisation through the Border Guards Bangladesh; disregard of mandatory consultation with the CHT Regional Council (establishment of the University of Science & Technology, and Medical College in Rangamati despite popular opposition); the mammoth task of resolving land disputes has not even begun: acquisition of land by state and non-state actors (3,911 acres was acquired in 2014, a further 84,647 acres is in the process of being acquired); Forest Department is acquiring 84,542 acres, and declaring them reserved and protected forests; leasing thousands of acres which is customarily held, to non- indigenous people to set up rubber plantations; eviction of indigenous families from their ancestral lands; increasing incidents of murder, killing, arson attacks, rape, sexual assault of Jummas by security forces and Bengali settlers, is afforded impunity.4

d) the increasing involvement of the security forces in ‘development’ and tourism projects in the CHT districts, for example, Nilgiri resort at Bandarban (Army), Lake Paradise at Kaptai, Rangamati (Navy), Jibtoly resort at Kaptai, Rangamati (Army), Agottor at Baghaichari, Rangamati (BGB), Heritage Park at Chengi Bridge, Khagrachari (Ansar and VDP). The direct involvement and participation of the armed forces in developing, popularizing and maintaining regional tourism sidelines the Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation and the concerned ministry, and local administration as well; while it is symptomatic of the so-called ‘security-concerns’ for militarizing the CHT, it also mirrors the ‘milbus’ (military in business) syndrome of the Pakistan Army.5

Photographer: Denim Chakma

Now, at the surface level, the government circulars are about different kinds of restrictions on foreign nationals and Bangladeshi citizens in visiting the region, going places, talking to Jummas. For all purposes, the second circular is an improvement on the first. The first stipulates that (all) foreigners wishing to travel to the CHT should apply a month ahead, whereas the second classifies tourists into 4 categories: those who sign up with Guided Tour Operators (‘easier to provide security’), those who are diplomats/UN agency employees/foreign organisations holding the same status, those working in factories and industries situated in the CHT, and all others wanting to travel or conduct research. Those in the last category need to apply to the home ministry only about ten days ahead, which means in comparison to the first circular the second has slashed down the time to a third; tourists in categories 1 & 3 need to apply to the district commissioner, whereas those in the diplomat category to the foreign ministry. The second circular interestingly expresses concern that decisions taken at the January 7th meeting have “inconvenienced” tourists, has harmed the local economy (“source of income” for locals), that the presence of tourists in the CHT had helped “expand” the Bangladesh tourism industry. The circular advises caution: the law-and- order situation in the CHT needs to be kept “stable”, but measures adopted should not “discourage” foreign tourists.

But the real question is, security from who? Who or what threatens the safety of tourists?  

According to the January circular, several local organizations are involved in extortion, killing, and abduction. That these “locals” are Jummas, and not Bangladeshi settlers, is made clear by the marker, “those opposed to the Peace Accord.” Some local organizations, says the circular, possess “large quantities of illegal arms”, but here strikingly enough, only Jana Samhati Samiti (JSS) and United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), both Jumma organizations, are marked-out ethnically. Although the circular notes that “armed groups are always active in remote areas,” and some of these are “involved in arms- and drug-smuggling from India and Myanmar,” nothing is said about their ethnic identity. Is it because, ethnically-speaking, they are Bengalis?

The paradox of the situation in the CHT is that the political bodies of Jumma people are constructed as being threats to the law and order situation, and thereby, the safety of tourists, but simultaneously, a palpable sense of unease exists about “foreign” tourists. Or, more precisely, contacts between foreign tourists and the Jummas.


  1. Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson, “A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+-focused special issues,” ephemera 12(1/2): 162-180.
  2. Joseph Cavanagh Connor, Pål Olav Vedeld, Leif Tore Trædal, “Securitizing REDD+? Problematizing the emerging illegal timber trade and forest carbon interface in East Africa,” Geoforum 60 (2015) 72–82.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Violence and land grabbing forced 210 indigenous families to flee the country in 2014,”Dhaka Tribune, February 28, 2015.
  5. Ayesha Siddiqa, Pakistan Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan teaches in the Department of International Relations, Dhaka University.

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