The history of Bangladesh is related to that of
the larger area of Bengal, which became independent
of Delhi by 1341. After a succession of Muslim rulers,
it was conquered by Akbar, the great Mughal emperor
in 1576. By the beginning of the 18th cent., the
governor of the province was virtually independent,
but he lost control to the British East India Company,
which after 1775 was the effective ruler of the
vast area, which also included the Indian states
of West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, and Bihar.
Bengal was divided by the British in 1905 into West
Bengal and East Bengal, with East Bengal being more
or less coterminous with modern Bangladesh. Since
the new province had a majority Muslim population,
the partition was welcomed by Muslims, but it was
fiercely resented by Indian nationalist leaders
who saw it as an attempt to drive a wedge between
Muslims and Hindus. The partition was withdrawn
in 1911, but it had pointed the way to the events
of 1947, when British India was partitioned into
the states of India and Pakistan.
consisted of two “wings,” one to the
west of India, and the other to the east. The eastern
section was constituted from the eastern portion
of Bengal and the former Sylhet district of Assam
and was known until 1955 as East Bengal and then
as East Pakistan. Pakistan's two provinces, which
differed considerably in natural setting, economy,
and historical background, were separated from each
other by more than 1,000 mi (1,610 km) of India.
The East Pakistanis, who comprised 56% of the total
population of Pakistan, were discontented under
a government centered in West Pakistan; the disparity
in government investments and development funds
given to each province also added to the resentment.
Efforts over the years to secure increased economic
benefits and political reforms proved unsuccessful,
and serious riots broke out in 1968 and 1969.
Independence to the Present:
The movement for greater autonomy gained momentum
when, in the Dec., 1970, general elections, the
Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman (generally known as Sheikh Mujib) won practically
all of East Pakistan's seats and thus achieved a
majority in the Pakistan National Assembly. President
Muhammad Agha Yahya Khan, hoping to avert a political
confrontation between East and West Pakistan, twice
postponed the opening session of the national assembly.
government's attempts to forestall the autonomy
bid led to general strikes and nonpayment of taxes
in East Pakistan and finally to civil war on Mar.
25, 1971. On the following day the Awami League's
leaders proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh.
During the months of conflict an estimated one million
Bengalis were killed in East Pakistan and another
10 million fled into exile in India. Fighting raged
in Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla, Sylhet, Jessore,
Barisal, Rangpur, and Khulna. Finally India allied
itself with Bangladesh, which it had recognized
on Dec. 6, and during a two-week war (Dec. 3–16)
defeated the Pakistani forces in the east. Sheikh
Mujib, who had been chosen president while in prison
in West Pakistan, was released, and in Jan., 1972,
he set up a government and assumed the premiership;
Abu Sayeed Choudhury became president.
Pakistan's call for a reunited country, Sheikh Mujib
began to rehabilitate an economy devastated by the
war. Relations with Pakistan were hostile; Pakistan
withheld recognition from Bangladesh, and Bangladesh
and India refused to repatriate more than 90,000
Pakistani prisoners of war who had surrendered at
the end of the conflict. Armed Bengali “freedom
fighters” fought Bihari civilians in Bangladesh,
particularly after Indian troops withdrew from Bangladesh
in Mar., 1972.
were eased in July, 1972, when President Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto of Pakistan (who assumed power after
the fall of the Yahya Khan government) and Prime
Minister Indira Gandhi of India agreed to peacefully
settle the differences between their countries.
Pakistan officially recognized Bangladesh in Feb.,
1974. Subsequently, India and Pakistan reached consensus
on the release of Pakistani prisoners of war and
the exchange of hostage populations.
was gradually recognized by most of the world's
nations. It joined the Commonwealth of Nations in
1972 and was admitted to the United Nations in 1974.
In 1972 the country's major industries, banks, and
shipping and insurance firms were nationalized.
Despite Mujib's popularity as the founder of independent
Bangladesh, high rates of inflation and a severe
famine resulted in a governmental crisis. In 1975,
after becoming president under a new constitutional
system, he was assassinated in a military coup;
after two additional coups later in the year, Maj.
Gen. Zia ur-Rahman emerged as ruler, beginning a
period of military control that lasted into the
1981, Zia was himself assassinated in a failed coup
attempt; his successor was replaced (1982) in a
bloodless coup by Lt. Gen. Hussain Mohammad Ershad,
who assumed the presidency. In an effort to gain
legitimacy, Ershad later resigned his military office
and won a disputed presidential election. He was
forced to resign in Dec., 1990, amid charges of
corruption, for which he was later jailed (2000).
held in Feb., 1991, brought the Bangladesh Nationalist
party (BNP) to power, and Khaleda Zia, the widow
of Zia ur-Rahman, became prime minister. In 1994,
nearly all opposition members of parliament denounced
Zia's government as corrupt and resigned their seats.
After a series of general strikes called by the
opposition, parliament was dissolved in Nov., 1995;
major opposition parties also boycotted the ensuing
Feb., 1996, elections. Zia was returned to power,
but the opposition mounted protests; she resigned
and an interim government headed by Habibur Rahman
elections held in June, 1996, resulted in a victory
for the opposition Awami League, led by Hasina Wazed,
daughter of Bangladesh's first prime minister. As
she struggled with the country's ongoing economic
problems, a series of opposition-led strikes, beginning
in 1998, once again paralyzed the country. In July,
2001, a caretaker government headed by Latifur Rahman
was appointed in advance of parliamentary elections
in October. Zia and the BNP won a landslide victory
in the voting, and she again became prime minister.
In 2003 the Awami League began a series of rallies
and occasional strikes to mobilize opposition to
the government. Deadly attacks on rallies in Aug.,
2004, and Jan., 2005, provoked a series of nationwide
and local strikes and protests by the League, which
accused the government of trying to assassinate