The official name is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a country in South Asia. Bangladesh shares land borders with India to the west, north, and east, Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south.
It is narrowly separated from Nepal and Bhutan by India’s Siliguri Corridor, and from China by the Indian state of Sikkim, in the north, respectively.
Dhaka, the capital and largest city, is the nation’s economic, political and cultural hub.
Chittagong, the largest seaport, is the second-largest city.
Official language: Bengali.
National currency is called taka: 1 BDT = 0,012 USD (2021).
Time zone in Bangladesh: GMT+6
Bangladesh is a de jure representative democracy under its constitution, with a Westminster-style unitary parliamentary republic that has universal suffrage. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is invited to form a government every five years by the President.
With numerous crisscrossing rivers and inland waterways, the dominant geographic feature of Bangladesh is the Ganges delta, which empties into the Bay of Bengal with the combined waters of several river systems, including the Brahmaputra river and the Ganges river.
Highlands, with evergreen forests, cover the northeastern and southeastern regions, while the country’s biodiversity comprises a vast array of plants and wildlife, including the endangered Royal Bengal tiger, which is the national animal.
The seacoast features the world’s longest natural sandy beach in Cox’s Bazar as well as the Sundarbans, which is the world’s largest mangrove forest.
The geography of Bangladesh is divided into three regions. Most of the country is dominated by the fertile Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, which is the largest river delta in the world. The northwest and central parts of the country are formed by the Madhupur and the Barind plateaus. The northeast and southeast are home to evergreen hill ranges.
The Ganges delta is formed by the confluence of the Ganges (local name Padma or Pôdda), Brahmaputra (Jamuna or Jomuna), and Meghna rivers and their respective tributaries. The Ganges unites with the Jamuna (main channel of the Brahmaputra) and later joins the Meghna, finally flowing into the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has 57 transboundary rivers, making the resolution of water issues politically complicated, in most cases, as the country is a lower riparian state to India.
Bangladesh is predominantly rich fertile flat land. Most of it is less than 12 m above sea level, and it is estimated that about 10% of its land would be flooded if the sea level were to rise by 1 m. 17% of the country is covered by forests and 12% is covered by hill systems. The country’s haor wetlands are of significance to global environmental science.
In southeastern Bangladesh, experiments have been done since the 1960s to ‘build with nature’. The construction of cross dams has induced a natural accretion of silt, creating new land. With Dutch funding, the Bangladeshi government began promoting the development of this new land in the late 1970s.
The effort has become a multi-agency endeavor, building roads, culverts, embankments, cyclone shelters, toilets and ponds, as well as distributing land to settlers. Years of collaboration with donors and global experts in water resources management has enabled Bangladesh to formulate strategies to combat the impacts of climate change.
In Sep 2018, Bangladesh Government approved Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, a combination of long-term strategies and subsequent interventions for ensuring long-term water and food security, economic growth and environmental sustainability.
The formulation of the plan was led by the General Economics Division of the Ministry of Planning and supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, bringing together cross-sectoral expertise from the Netherlands and Bangladesh.
With an elevation of 1,064 m, Saka Haphong (also known as Mowdok Mual) near the border with Myanmar, is claimed to be the highest peak of Bangladesh. However, it is not yet widely recognized as the highest point of the country, and most sources give the honor to Keokradong.
The country is divided into 8 administrative divisions and sixty-four districts.
There are 8 administrative divisions, each named after their respective divisional headquarters:
- Barisal (officially Barishal)
- Chittagong (officially Chattogram)
Divisions are subdivided into districts (zila). There are 64 districts in Bangladesh, each further subdivided into upazila (subdistricts) or thana. The area within each police station, except for those in metropolitan areas, is divided into several unions, with each union consisting of multiple villages. In the metropolitan areas, police stations are divided into wards, which are further divided into mahallas.
There are no elected officials at the divisional or district levels, and the administration is composed only of government officials. Direct elections are held in each union (or ward) for a chairperson and a number of members. In 1997, a parliamentary act was passed to reserve three seats (out of 12) in every union for female candidates.
Speakers of the official Bengali language, who form the Bengali ethnic group, make up 98% of the population. Bangladesh is created on the basis of language and ethnicity. Its large Muslim population makes Bangladesh the fourth-largest Muslim-majority country in the world.
The constitution declares Bangladesh a secular, Muslim-majority country. A middle power, Bangladesh is a unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic following the Westminster system of governance.
The exact origin of the word Bangla is unknown, though it is believed to come from “Vanga”, an ancient kingdom and geopolitical division on the Ganges delta in the Indian subcontinent. It was located in southern Bengal, with the core region including present-day southern West Bengal (India) and southwestern Bangladesh.
The suffix “al” came to be added to it from the fact that the ancient rajahs of this land raised mounds of earth 10 feet high and 20 in breadth in lowlands at the foot of the hills which were called “al”. From this suffix added to the Bung, the name Bengal arose and gained currency”. Support to this view is found in Ghulam Husain Salim’s Riyaz-us-Salatin.
Other theories point to a Bronze Age proto-Dravidian tribe, the Austric word “Bonga” (Sun god), and the Iron Age Vanga Kingdom. The Indo-Aryan suffix Desh is derived from the Sanskrit word deśha, which means “land” or “country”. Hence, the name Bangladesh means “Land of Bengal” or “Country of Bengal”.
The term Bangla denotes both the Bengal region and the Bengali language. The earliest known usage of the term is the Nesari plate in 805 AD. The term Vangaladesa is found in 11th-century South Indian records. The term gained official status during the Sultanate of Bengal in the 14th century. Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah proclaimed himself as the first “Shah of Bangala” in 1342. The word Bangla became the most common name for the region during the Islamic period. The Portuguese referred to the region as Bengala in the 16th century.
The etymology of Bangladesh (Country of Bengal) can be traced to the early 20th century, when Bengali patriotic songs, such as Namo Namo Namo Bangladesh Momo by Kazi Nazrul Islam and Aaji Bangladesher Hridoy by Rabindranath Tagore, used the term. The term Bangladesh was often written as two words, Bangla Desh, in the past. Starting in the 1950s, Bengali nationalists used the term in political rallies in East Pakistan.
Bangladesh forms the larger and eastern part of the Bengal region. According to the ancient sacred Indian texts, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Vanga Kingdom, one of the namesakes of the Bengal region, was a strong naval ally of the legendary Ayodhya. In the ancient and classical period of the Indian subcontinent, the territory was home to many principalities, including the Pundra, Gangaridai, Gauda, Samatata and Harikela.
It was also a Mauryan province under the reign of Ashoka. The principalities were notable for their overseas trade, contacts with the Roman world, export of fine muslin and silk to the Middle East, and spreading of philosophy and art to Southeast Asia. The Pala Empire, the Chandra dynasty, and the Sena dynasty were the last pre-Islamic Bengali middle kingdoms.
Islam was introduced during the Pala Empire, through trade with the Abbasid Caliphate, but following the early conquest of Bakhtiyar Khalji and the subsequent establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and preaching of Shah Jalal in East Bengal, the faithfully spread across the region.
In 1576, the wealthy Bengal Sultanate was absorbed into the Mughal Empire, but its rule was briefly interrupted by the Suri Empire. Following the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in the early 1700s, the proto-industrialized Mughal Bengal became a semi-independent state under the Nawabs of Bengal.
The region was later conquered by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The borders of modern Bangladesh were established with the separation of Bengal and India in August 1947, when the region became East Pakistan as a part of the newly formed State of Pakistan, demarcated by the Boundary of the Partition of India.
Later the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement led to the Liberation War and eventually resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent nation in 1971.
Stone Age tools found in Bangladesh indicate human habitation for over 20,000 years, and remnants of Copper Age settlements date back 4,000 years. Ancient Bengal was settled by Austroasiatics, Tibeto-Burmans, Dravidians and Indo-Aryans in consecutive waves of migration.
Archaeological evidence confirms that by the second millennium BCE, rice-cultivating communities inhabited the region. By the 11th century, people lived in systemically aligned housing, buried their dead, and manufactured copper ornaments and black and red pottery. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers were natural arteries for communication and transportation, and estuaries on the Bay of Bengal permitted maritime trade.
The early Iron Age saw the development of metal weaponry, coinage, agriculture and irrigation. Major urban settlements formed during the late Iron Age, in the mid-first millennium BCE, when the Northern Black Polished Ware culture developed. In 1879, Alexander Cunningham identified Mahasthangarh as the capital of the Pundra Kingdom mentioned in the Rigveda. The oldest inscription in Bangladesh was found in Mahasthangarh and dates from the 3rd century BCE. It is written in the Brahmi script.
Greek and Roman records of the ancient Gangaridai Kingdom, which (according to legend) deterred the invasion of Alexander the Great, are linked to the fort city in Wari-Bateshwar. The site is also identified with the prosperous trading center of Souanagoura listed on Ptolemy’s world map. Roman geographers noted a large seaport in southeastern Bengal, corresponding to the present-day Chittagong region.
Ancient Buddhist and Hindu states which ruled Bangladesh included the Vanga, Samatata and Pundra kingdoms, the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, the Varman dynasty, Shashanka’s kingdom, the Khadga and Candra dynasties, the Pala Empire, the Sena dynasty, the Harikela kingdom and the Deva dynasty.
These states had well-developed currencies, banking, shipping, architecture and art, and the ancient universities of Bikrampur and Mainamati hosted scholars and students from other parts of Asia. Xuanzang of China was a noted scholar who resided at the Somapura Mahavihara (the largest monastery in ancient India), and Atisa traveled from Bengal to Tibet to preach Buddhism. The earliest form of the Bengali language began to emerge during the eighth century.
Early Muslim explorers and missionaries arrived in Bengal late in the first millennium CE. The Islamic conquest of Bengal began with the 1204 invasion by Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji; after annexing Bengal to the Delhi Sultanate, Khilji waged a military campaign in Tibet. Bengal was ruled by the Delhi Sultanate for a century by governors from the Mamluk, Balban and Tughluq dynasties.
Subsequently, the independent Bengal Sultanate was established by the rabel governors in 1352. During their rule Bengal was transformed into a cosmopolitan Islamic superpower and became a major trading nation in the world, often referred by the Europeans as the richest country to trade with.
The sultanate’s ruling houses included the Ilyas Shahi, Ganesha, Hussain Shahi, Suri and Karrani dynasties, and the era saw the introduction of distinct mosque architecture and the tangka currency. The Arakan region was brought under Bengali hegemony. The Bengal Sultanate was visited by explorers Ibn Battuta, Admiral Zheng He and Niccolo De Conti.
The Khorasanis referred to the land as an “inferno full of gifts”, due to its unbearable climate but the abundance of wealth. During the late 16th century, the Baro-Bhuyan (a confederation of Muslim and Hindu aristocrats) ruled eastern Bengal; its leader was the Mansad-e-Ala, a title held by Isa Khan and his son Musa Khan. The Khan dynasty are considered local heroes for resisting North Indian invasions with their river navies.
The Mughal Empire controlled Bengal by the 17th century. During the reign of Emperor Akbar, the Bengali agrarian calendar was reformed to facilitate tax collection. The Mughals established Dhaka as a fort city and commercial metropolis, and it was the capital of Bengal Subah for 75 years.
In 1666, the Mughals expelled the Arakanese from Chittagong. Mughal Bengal attracted foreign traders for its muslin and silk goods, and the Armenians were a notable merchant community. A Portuguese settlement in Chittagong flourished in the southeast, and a Dutch settlement in Rajshahi existed in the north.
Bengal accounted for 40% of overall Dutch imports from Asia; including more than 50% of textiles and around 80% of silks. The Bengal Subah, described as the Paradise of the Nations, was the empire’s wealthiest province, and a major global exporter, a notable center of worldwide industries such as muslin, cotton textiles, silk, and shipbuilding. Its citizens also enjoyed one of the world’s most superior living standards.
During the 18th century, the Nawabs of Bengal became the region’s de facto rulers. The title of the ruler is popularly known as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, given that the Bengali Nawab’s realm encompassed much of the eastern subcontinent. The Nawabs forged alliances with European colonial companies, which made the region relatively prosperous early in the century. Bengal accounted for 50% of the gross domestic product of the empire.
The Bengali economy relied on textile manufacturing, shipbuilding, saltpetre production, craftsmanship and agricultural produce. Bengal was a major hub for international trade – silk and cotton textiles from Bengal were worn in Europe, Japan, Indonesia and Central Asia.
Annual Bengali shipbuilding output was 223,250 tons, compared to an output of 23,061 tons in the nineteen colonies of North America. Bengali shipbuilding proved to be more advanced than European shipbuilding prior to the Industrial Revolution. The flush deck of Bengali rice ships was later replicated in European shipbuilding to replace the stepped deck design for ship hulls.
The Bengali Muslim population was a product of conversion and religious evolution, and their pre-Islamic beliefs included elements of Buddhism and Hinduism. The construction of mosques, Islamic academies (madrasas) and Sufi monasteries (khanqahs) facilitated conversion, and Islamic cosmology played a significant role in developing Bengali Muslim society.
Scholars have theorized that Bengalis were attracted to Islam by its egalitarian social order, which contrasted with the Hindu caste system. One of the notable Muslim preachers was Shah Jalal who arrived in the region of Sylhet in 1303 with many other disciples to preach the religion to the people.
By the 15th century, Muslim poets were writing in the Bengali language. Notable medieval Bengali Muslim poets included Daulat Qazi, Abdul Hakim and Alaol. Syncretic cults, such as the Baul movement, emerged on the fringes of Bengali Muslim society. The Persianate culture was significant in Bengal, where cities like Sonargaon became the easternmost centers of Persian influence.
The Mughals had aided France during the Seven Years’ War to avoid losing the Bengal region to the British. However, in the Battle of Plassey the British East India Company registered a decisive victory over the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies on 22 June 1757, under the leadership of Robert Clive.
The battle followed the order of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, to the English to stop the extension of their fortification. Robert Clive bribed Mir Jafar, the commander-in-chief of the Nawab’s army, and also promised him to make him Nawab of Bengal which helped him to defeat Siraj-ud-Daulah and capture Calcutta.
The battle consolidated the Company’s presence in Bengal, which later expanded to cover much of India over the next hundred years. Although they had lost control of Bengal Subah, Shah Alam II was involved in the Bengal War which ended once more in their defeat at the Battle of Buxar.
After the 1757 Battle of Plassey, Bengal was the first region of the Indian subcontinent conquered by the British East India Company. The company formed the Presidency of Fort William, which administered the region until 1858. A notable aspect of company rule was the Permanent Settlement, which established the feudal zamindari system.
The plunder of Bengal directly contributed to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, with the capital amassed from Bengal used to invest in British industries such as textile and greatly increase British wealth, while at the same time leading to the deindustrialization of Bengal’s traditional textile industry.
The economic mismanagement directly led to the Great Bengal famine of 1770, which is estimated to have caused the deaths of about 10 million people, as a third of the population in the affected region starved to death. Several rebellions broke out during the early 19th century (including one led by Titumir), but British rule displaced the Muslim ruling class.
A conservative Islamic cleric, Haji Shariatullah, sought to overthrow the British by propagating Islamic revivalism. Several towns in Bangladesh participated in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and pledged allegiance to the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was later exiled to neighboring Burma.
The challenge posed to company rule by the failed Indian Mutiny led to the creation of the British Indian Empire as a crown colony. The British established several schools, colleges and a university in what is now Bangladesh. Syed Ahmed Khan and Ram Mohan Roy promoted modern and liberal education in the subcontinent, inspiring the Aligarh movement and the Bengal Renaissance.
During the late 19th century, novelists, social reformers and feminists emerged from Muslim Bengali society. Electricity and municipal water systems were introduced in the 1890s; cinemas opened in many towns during the early 20th century. East Bengal’s plantation economy was important to the British Empire, particularly its jute and tea. The British established tax-free river ports, such as the Port of Narayanganj, and large seaports like the Port of Chittagong.
Bengal had the highest gross domestic product in British India. Bengal was one of the first regions in Asia to have a railway. The first railway in what is now Bangladesh began operating in 1862. In comparison, Japan saw its first railway in 1872. The main railway companies in the region were the Eastern Bengal Railway and Assam Bengal Railway. Railways competed with waterborne transport to become one of the main mediums of transport.
Supported by the Muslim aristocracy, the British government created the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905; the new province received increased investment in education, transport and industry. However, the first partition of Bengal created an uproar in Calcutta and the Indian National Congress. In response to growing Hindu nationalism, the All India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka during the 1906 All India Muhammadan Educational Conference. The British government reorganized the provinces in 1912, reuniting East and West Bengal and making Assam a second province.
The Raj was slow to allow self-rule in the colonial subcontinent. It established the Bengal Legislative Council in 1862, and the council’s native Bengali representation increased during the early 20th century. The Bengal Provincial Muslim League was formed in 1913 to advocate civil rights for Bengali Muslims within a constitutional framework.
During the 1920s, the league was divided into factions supporting the Khilafat movement and favoring co-operation with the British to achieve self-rule. Segments of the Bengali elite supported Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secularist forces. In 1929, the All Bengal Tenants Association was formed in the Bengal Legislative Council to counter the influence of the Hindu landed gentry, and the Indian Independence and Pakistan Movements strengthened during the early 20th century.
After the Morley-Minto Reforms and the diarchy era in the legislatures of British India, the British government promised limited provincial autonomy in 1935. The Bengal Legislative Assembly, British India’s largest legislature, was established in 1937.
Although it won a majority of seats in 1937, the Bengal Congress boycotted the legislature. A. K. Fazlul Huq of the Krishak Praja Party was elected as the first Prime Minister of Bengal. In 1940 Huq supported the Lahore Resolution, which envisaged independent states in the northwestern and eastern Muslim-majority regions of the subcontinent.
The first Huq ministry, a coalition with the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, lasted until 1941; it was followed by a Huq coalition with the Hindu Mahasabha which lasted until 1943. Huq was succeeded by Khawaja Nazimuddin, who grappled with the effects of the Burma Campaign, the Bengal famine of 1943, which killed up to 3 million people, and the Quit India movement.
In 1946, the Bengal Provincial Muslim League won the provincial election, taking 113 of the 250-seat assembly (the largest Muslim League mandate in British India). H. S. Suhrawardy, who made a final futile effort for a United Bengal in 1946, was the last premier of Bengal.
On 3 June 1947 Mountbatten Plan outlined the partition of British India. On 20 June, the Bengal Legislative Assembly met to decide on the partition of Bengal. At the preliminary joint meeting, it was decided (120 votes to 90) that if the province remained united it should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.
At a separate meeting of legislators from West Bengal, it was decided (58 votes to 21) that the province should be partitioned and West Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of India. At another meeting of legislators from East Bengal, it was decided (106 votes to 35) that the province should not be partitioned and (107 votes to 34) that East Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan if Bengal was partitioned.
On 6 July, the Sylhet region of Assam voted in a referendum to join East Bengal. Cyril Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the borders of Pakistan and India, and the Radcliffe Line established the borders of present-day Bangladesh.
The Dominion of Pakistan was created on 14 August 1947. East Bengal, with Dhaka as its capital, was the most populous province of the 1947 Pakistani federation (led by Governor-General Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who promised freedom of religion and secular democracy in the new state). East Bengal was also Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan province, home to peoples of different faiths, cultures and ethnic groups. Partition gave the increased economic opportunity to East Bengalis, producing an urban population during the 1950s.
Khawaja Nazimuddin was East Bengal’s first chief minister with Frederick Chalmers Bourne its governor. The All Pakistan Awami Muslim League was formed in 1949. In 1950, the East Bengal Legislative Assembly enacted land reform, abolishing the Permanent Settlement and the zamindari system.
The 1952 Bengali Language Movement was the first sign of friction between the country’s geographically separated wings. The Awami Muslim League was renamed the more-secular Awami League in 1953. The first constituent assembly was dissolved in 1954; this was challenged by its East Bengali speaker, Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan.
The United Front coalition swept aside the Muslim League in a landslide victory in the 1954 East Bengali legislative election. The following year, East Bengal has renamed East Pakistan as part of the One Unit program and the province became a vital part of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.
Pakistan adopted its first constitution in 1956. Three Bengalis were its Prime Minister until 1957: Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali of Bogra and Suhrawardy. None of the three completed their terms and resigned from office. The Pakistan Army imposed military rule in 1958, and Ayub Khan was the country’s strongman for 11 years. Political repression increased after the coup. Khan introduced a new constitution in 1962, replacing Pakistan’s parliamentary system with a presidential and gubernatorial system (based on electoral college selection) known as Basic Democracy.
In 1962 Dhaka became the seat of the National Assembly of Pakistan, a move seen as appeasing increased Bengali nationalism. The Pakistani government built the controversial Kaptai Dam, displacing the Chakma people from their indigenous homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
During the 1965 presidential election, Fatima Jinnah lost to Ayub Khan despite support from the Combined Opposition alliance (which included the Awami League). The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 blocked cross-border transport links with neighboring India in what is described as a second partition. In 1966, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced a six-point movement for a federal parliamentary democracy.
According to senior World Bank officials, Pakistan practiced extensive economic discrimination against East Pakistan: greater government spending on West Pakistan, financial transfers from East to West Pakistan, the use of East Pakistan’s foreign-exchange surpluses to finance West Pakistani imports, and refusal by the central government to release funds allocated to East Pakistan because the previous spending had been under budget; though East Pakistan generated 70 percent of Pakistan’s export revenue with its jute and tea. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested for treason in the Agartala Conspiracy Case and was released during the 1969 uprising in East Pakistan which resulted in Ayub Khan’s resignation. General Yahya Khan assumed power, reintroducing martial law.
Ethnic and linguistic discrimination was common in Pakistan’s civil and military services, in which Bengalis were under-represented. Fifteen percent of Pakistani central-government offices were occupied by East Pakistanis, who formed 10 percent of the military. Cultural discrimination also prevailed, making East Pakistan forge a distinct political identity. Pakistan banned Bengali literature and music in state media, including the works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
A cyclone devastated the coast of East Pakistan in 1970, killing an estimated 500,000 people, and the central government was criticized for its poor response. After the December 1970 elections, calls for the independence of East Bengal became louder; the Bengali-nationalist Awami League won 167 of 169 East Pakistani seats in the National Assembly. The League claimed the right to form a government and develop a new constitution but was strongly opposed by the Pakistani military and the Pakistan Peoples Party (led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto).
The Bengali population was angered when Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was prevented from taking the office. Civil disobedience erupted across East Pakistan, with calls for independence. Mujib addressed a pro-independence rally of nearly 2 million people in Dacca (as Dhaka used to be spelled in English) on 7 March 1971, where he said, “This time the struggle is for our freedom.
This time the struggle is for our independence.”
The flag of Bangladesh was raised for the first time on 23 March, Pakistan’s Republic Day. Later, on 25 March late evening, the Pakistani military junta led by Yahya Khan launched a sustained military assault on East Pakistan under the code name of Operation Searchlight. The Pakistan Army arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and flew him away to Karachi. However, before his arrest, Mujib proclaimed the Independence of Bangladesh at midnight on 26 March which led the Bangladesh Liberation War to break out within hours.
The Pakistan Army continued to massacre Bengali students, intellectuals, politicians, civil servants and military defectors in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, while the Mukti Bahini and other Bengali guerrilla forces created strong resistance throughout the country. During the war, an estimated 0.3 to 3 million people were killed and several million people took shelter in neighboring India.
Global public opinion turned against Pakistan as news of the atrocities spread; the Bangladesh movement was supported by prominent political and cultural figures in the West, including Ted Kennedy, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Victoria Ocampo and André Malraux. The Concert for Bangladesh was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City to raise funds for Bangladeshi refugees. The first major benefit concert in history was organized by Harrison and Indian Bengali sitarist Ravi Shankar.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War, Bengali nationalists declared independence and formed the Mukti Bahini (the Bangladeshi National Liberation Army). The Provisional Government of Bangladesh was established on 17 April 1971, converting the 469 elected members of the Pakistani national assembly and East Pakistani provincial assembly into the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh.
The provisional government issued a proclamation that became the country’s interim constitution and declared “equality, human dignity and social justice” as its fundamental principles. Due to Mujib’s detention, Syed Nazrul Islam took over the role of Acting President, while Tajuddin Ahmad was named Bangladesh’s first Prime Minister.
The Mukti Bahini and other Bengali guerrilla forces formed the Bangladesh Forces which became the military wing of the provisional government. Led by General M. A. G. Osmani and eleven sector commanders, the forces held the countryside during the war and conducted wide-ranging guerrilla operations against Pakistani forces. As a result, almost the entire country except for the capital Dacca was liberated by Bangladesh Forces by late November.
This led the Pakistan Army to attack neighboring India’s western front on 2 December 1971. India retaliated on both the western and eastern fronts. With a joint ground advance by Bangladeshi and Indian forces, coupled with airstrikes by both India and the small Bangladeshi air contingent, the capital Dacca was liberated from Pakistani occupation in mid-December.
During the last phase of the war, both the Soviet Union and the United States dispatched naval forces to the Bay of Bengal in a Cold War standoff. The nine-month-long war ended with the surrender of Pakistani armed forces to the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces on 16 December 1971.
Under international pressure, Pakistan released Rahman from imprisonment on 8 January 1972 and he was flown by the British Royal Air Force to a million-strong homecoming in Dacca. The remaining Indian troops were withdrawn by 12 March 1972, three months after the war ended.
The cause of Bangladeshi self-determination was recognized around the world. By August 1972, the new state was recognized by 86 countries. Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in 1974 after pressure from most of the Muslim countries.
The constituent assembly adopted the constitution of Bangladesh on 4 November 1972, establishing a secular, multiparty parliamentary democracy. The new constitution included references to socialism, and Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman nationalized major industries in 1972.
A major reconstruction and rehabilitation program was launched. The Awami League won the country’s first general election in 1973, securing a large majority in the “Jatiyo Sangshad”, the national parliament. Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth of Nations, the UN, the OIC and the Non-Aligned Movement, and Rahman strengthened ties with India.
Amid growing agitation by the opposition National Awami Party and National Socialist Party, he became increasingly authoritarian. Rahman amended the constitution, giving himself more emergency powers (including the suspension of fundamental rights). The Bangladesh famine of 1974 also worsened the political situation.
In January 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman introduced one-party socialist rule under BAKSAL. Rahman banned all newspapers except four state-owned publications and amended the constitution to increase his power. He was assassinated during a coup on 15 August 1975. Martial law was declared, and the presidency passed to the usurper Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad for four months. Ahmad is widely regarded as a traitor by Bangladeshis.
Tajuddin Ahmad, the nation’s first prime minister, and four other independence leaders were assassinated on 4 November 1975. Chief Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem was installed as president by the military on 6 November 1975. Bangladesh was governed by a military junta led by the Chief Martial Law Administrator for three years.
In 1977, the army chief Ziaur Rahman became president. Rahman reinstated multiparty politics, privatized industries and newspapers, established BEPZA and held the country’s second general election in 1979. A semi-presidential system evolved, with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) governing until 1982. Rahman was assassinated in 1981 and was succeeded by Vice-President Abdus Sattar. Sattar received 65.5 percent of the vote in the 1981 presidential election.
After a year in office, Sattar was overthrown in the 1982 Bangladesh coup d’état. Chief Justice A. F. M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury was installed as president, but army chief Hussain Muhammad Ershad became the country’s de facto leader and assumed the presidency in 1983. Ershad lifted martial law in 1986.
He governed with four successive prime ministers (Ataur Rahman Khan, Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury, Moudud Ahmed and Kazi Zafar Ahmed) and a parliament dominated by his Jatiyo Party. General elections were held in 1986 and 1988, although the latter was boycotted by the opposition BNP and Awami League.
Ershad pursued administrative decentralization, dividing the country into 64 districts, and pushed Parliament to make Islam the state religion in 1988. A 1990 mass uprising forced him to resign, and Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed led the country’s first caretaker government as part of the transition to parliamentary rule.
After the 1991 general election, the twelfth amendment to the constitution restored the parliamentary republic and Begum Khaleda Zia became Bangladesh’s first female prime minister. Zia, a former first lady, led a BNP government from 1990 to 1996. In 1991 her finance minister, Saifur Rahman, began a major program to liberalize the Bangladeshi economy.
In February 1996, a general election was held which was boycotted by all opposition parties giving a 300 (of 300) seat victory for BNP. This election was deemed illegitimate, so a system of a caretaker government was introduced to oversee the transfer of power and a new election was held in June 1996, overseen by Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, the first Chief Adviser of Bangladesh.
The Awami League won the seventh general election, marking its leader Sheikh Hasina’s first term as Prime Minister. Hasina’s first term was highlighted by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and a Ganges water-sharing treaty with India. The second caretaker government, led by Chief Adviser Justice Latifur Rahman, oversaw the 2001 Bangladeshi general election which returned Begum Zia and the BNP to power.
The second Zia administration saw improved economic growth, but political turmoil gripped the country between 2004 and 2006. A radical Islamist militant group, the JMB, carried out a series of terror attacks. The evidence of staging these attacks by these extremist groups have been found in the investigation, and hundreds of suspected members were detained in numerous security operations in 2006, including the two chiefs of the JMB, Shaykh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, who were executed with other top leaders in March 2007, bringing the militant group to an end.
In 2006, at the end of the term of the BNP administration, there was widespread political unrest related to the handover of power to a caretaker government. As such, the Bangladeshi military urged President Iajuddin Ahmed to impose a state of emergency and a caretaker government, led by technocrat Fakhruddin Ahmed, was installed.
Emergency rule lasted for two years, during which time investigations into members of both Awami League and BNP were conducted, including their leaders Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.
In 2008 the ninth general election saw a return to power for Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League-led Grand Alliance in a landslide victory. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled martial law illegal and affirmed secular principles in the constitution. The following year, the Awami League abolished the caretaker government system.
Citing the lack of caretaker government the 2014 general election was boycotted by the BNP and other opposition parties, giving the Awami League a decisive victory. The election was controversial with reports of violence and an alleged crackdown on the opposition in the run-up to the election and 153 seats (of 300) went uncontested in the election.
Despite the controversy, Hasina went on to form a government that saw her return for a third term as Prime Minister. Due to strong domestic demand, Bangladesh emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. However, human rights abuses increased under the Hasina administration, particularly enforced disappearances. Between 2016 and 2017, an estimated 1 million Rohingya refugees took shelter in southeastern Bangladesh amid a military crackdown in neighboring Rakhine State, Myanmar.
In 2018, the country saw major movements for government quota reforms and road safety. The 2018 Bangladeshi general election was marred by allegations of widespread vote-rigging. The Awami League won 259 out of 300 seats and the main opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front secured only 8 seats, with Sheikh Hasina becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Bangladeshi history. Pro-democracy leader Dr. Kamal Hossain called for an annulment of the election result and for a new election to be held in a free and fair manner. The election was also observed by European Union observers.
Bangladesh’s tourist attractions include historical sites and monuments, resorts, beaches, picnic spots, forests and wildlife of various species. Activities for tourists include angling, water skiing, river cruising, hiking, rowing, yachting, and sea bathing.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reported in 2019 that the travel and tourism industry in Bangladesh directly generated 1,180,500 jobs in 2018 or 1.9 percent of the country’s total employment.
According to the same report, Bangladesh experiences around 125,000 international tourist arrival per year. Domestic spending generated 97.7 percent of direct travel and tourism gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012. Bangladesh’s world ranking in 2012 for travel and tourism’s direct contribution to GDP, as a percentage of GDP, was 120 out of 140.
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh’s climate is tropical with a mild winter from October to March, and a hot, humid summer from March to June. The country has never recorded an air temperature below 0 °C (32 °F), with a record low of 1.1 °C (34.0 °F) in the northwest city of Dinajpur on 3 February 1905. A warm and humid monsoon season lasts from June to October and supplies most of the country’s rainfall.
Natural calamities, such as floods, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and tidal bores occur almost every year, combined with the effects of deforestation, soil degradation and erosion. The cyclones of 1970 and 1991 were particularly devastating, the latter killing some 140,000 people.
In September 1998, Bangladesh saw the most severe flooding in modern world history. As the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and Meghna spilled over and swallowed 300,000 houses, 9,700 km (6,000 mi) of road and 2,700 km (1,700 mi) of the embankment, 1,000 people were killed and 30 million more were made homeless; 135,000 cattle were killed; 50 km2 (19 sq mi) of land were destroyed, and 11,000 km (6,800 mi) of roads were damaged or destroyed.
Effectively, two-thirds of the country was underwater. The severity of the flooding was attributed to unusually high monsoon rains, the shedding of equally unusually large amounts of meltwater from the Himalayas, and the widespread cutting down of trees (that would have intercepted rain water) for firewood or animal husbandry.
As a result of various international and national level initiatives in disaster risk reduction, the human toll and economic damage from floods and cyclones have come down over the years. A similar countrywide flood in 2007, which left five million people displaced, had a death toll of around 500,
Bangladesh is now widely recognized to be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Over the course of a century, 508 cyclones have affected the Bay of Bengal region, 17 percent of which are believed to have caused landfall in Bangladesh. Natural hazards that come from increased rainfall, rising sea levels, and tropical cyclones are expected to increase as the climate changes, each seriously affecting agriculture, water and food security, human health, and shelter.
It is estimated that by 2050, a 3 feet rise in sea levels will inundate some 20 percent of the land and displace more than 30 million people. To address the sea level rise threat in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 has been launched.
There is evidence that earthquakes pose a threat to the country and that plate tectonics have caused rivers to shift course suddenly and dramatically. It has been shown that rainy-season flooding in Bangladesh, on the world’s largest river delta, can push the underlying crust down by as much as 6 centimeters, and possibly perturb faults.
Bangladeshi water is frequently contaminated with arsenic because of the high arsenic content of the soil—up to 77 million people are exposed to toxic arsenic from drinking water.