Who are Bangladesh's allies

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Under British colonial rule

Portuguese traders and missionaries reached Bengal in the early 16th century, followed by the Dutch and French. In 1650 the first British landed and built trading posts and factories for them East India Company on. About a hundred years later, after defeating the Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Plassey, the company received tax sovereignty over the province of the Mughal Empire.

1858 became the rule of the East India Company ousted by the British Crown, which expanded its sphere of influence from Bengal in the east to the Indus in the west. Under Lord Curzon's reign, Bengal was divided for the first time in 1905 for administrative reasons. In 1906 the Muslim League founded in Dhaka. Hindus, however, and especially the Indian Congress Party, fought heavily against the division because they felt they were disadvantaged and feared economic competition. Six years later, the British withdrew this decision, but with their decision had initiated the beginning of the Muslim separatist movement.

East Pakistan

When the Indian subcontinent was divided on August 15, 1947, East Bengal first became part of the new Muslim state of Pakistan under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as East Bengal. In 1955 it was renamed East Pakistan.

For the next 26 years, Pakistan remained marked by political and economic instability. (see also History of Pakistan after 1947) For East Pakistan, not only economically disadvantaged by the separation from the Indian part of Bengal, a period of renewed dependency and oppression began.

The conflict-ridden relationship between East and West Pakistan came to a head after the second war with India over Kashmir in 1965. Resistance began to form in the form of growing independence struggles. In 1966, Mujibur Rahman demanded from the Awami League (AL) more autonomy for East Pakistan within a secular parliamentary overall Pakistan, which he presented in the form of his famous six-point program at a meeting of the opposition parties in Lahore.

War of independence and founding of the state

In the spectacular elections to the Pakistani National Assembly in 1970, Rahman received almost all of the seats in East Pakistan, but only a negligible percentage in West Pakistan. There Zulfikar Ali Bhutto won the absolute majority. For Pakistan as a whole, this resulted in a clear majority of seats for the AL with 167 out of 313 seats. President Yahya Khan opened talks with Bhutto and Rahman. Rahman insisted on the implementation of his six-point program under great pressure from his allies, which both Yahya and Bhutto rejected. As a result, the open protest in East Pakistan increased and Yahya increased the troop presence in Bengal.

On March 25, 1971, West Pakistani troops invaded Bengali territory, whereupon Bangladesh declared its independence. Mujibur Rahman was arrested and taken to West Pakistan. The AL was banned. Thousands of their followers fled to India, where a provisional government in exile was formed in Calcutta, now Kolkata, under the name Mujibnagar got known. Another part, mainly personnel of the former East Pakistani army and police as well as paramilitary units of the border troops and students, formed a freedom front, the Mukhti Bahiniwho fought relentless guerrilla warfare with the West Pakistani army.

The following eight months of the civil war - or War of Independence, as it is called in Bangladesh - were marked by violent attacks by West Pakistani soldiers, particularly against the Bengali civilian population, which exacerbated the dramatic economic and social situation of the divided country.

The intervention of India, which marked the meanwhile third Indo-Pakistani war, contributed significantly to the decision of this war. (see also: The role of India in the emergence of the state of Bangladesh) Even in the run-up to the war of independence, the Indian government had good contacts with Mujibur Rahman and his AL. Contrary to Pakistani suspicions, however, it was not a conspiratorial relationship aimed at establishing a new state. Yet India fueled the unrest indirectly through the training and military support of the Mukhti Bahini, which was able to stand up to the better equipped West Pakistani army.

After India initially resisted direct interference, Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister at the time, gave the order for Indian troops to march into East Bengal territory on November 21, 1971. The main trigger was the worsening situation in India's poor eastern provinces, which were no longer able to cope with the flow of refugees. India was just as unhappy about the lack of engagement of the international community in the intra-Pakistani conflict. In the summer of 1971, several Indian diplomatic delegations were sent to alert both the Western powers and the Soviet Union to the dangerous situation. They should use their influence on Pakistan to find a political solution. As this became more and more distant, Indira Gandhi increasingly sought the sole support of the Soviet Union. In August, the two states signed a friendship treaty, which obliged the signatories not to send any weapons or other aid to states with which the partner is in an armed conflict. India thus secured the right of veto of the Soviet Union in the UN Security Council and its military support before entering the war with Pakistan, of which the USA was the main ally. After defeating Pakistan, India became the first country to officially recognize Bangladesh.

On December 16, 1971, the (West) Pakistani army surrendered. This day is celebrated today in Bangladesh as Independence Day. The first members of the government-in-exile returned from India on December 22nd, and Mujibur Rahman, sentenced to death in Pakistan for high treason, was allowed to return to Bangladesh.

Hopeful founding years

After India's victory, Rahman became the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh, which formed into a pluralistic society with a multi-party system. The new constitution was a parliamentary one which, in addition to an independent judiciary and a legislature based on the British model, endowed the prime minister in particular with great power. Political cornerstones of the new state formed the four principles of the AL: nationalism, secularism, socialism and democracy.

As early as 1974, Mujibur Rahman had to declare a national emergency due to massive economic and administrative problems. In early 1975 he suspended the constitution. He limited the power of the legislature and the judiciary and appointed himself president. In June he merged all political parties into a unity party Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL) together. This step was presented to the population as the "Second Revolution".

Rule of the generals

However, further political and economic reforms were a long way off, and Rahman was exposed to growing criticism. In August 1975 he and his family were murdered by army officers. Only his daughter Sheikh Hasina, who was abroad at the time, and another child survived the massacre. His former comrade Khandakar Moshtaque took over the office of prime minister for the time being. In November of the same year several changes of power within military circles followed at short intervals, from which General Ziaur Rahman (Zia) emerged as the new strong man in Bangladesh. He promised the civilian government under Attorney General Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem the full support of the army, then had the army proclaim martial law and made him chief administrator, Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA).

In 1977 Zia replaced Sayem as president and one year later he was elected for five years. His government had developed a 19-point program that included increasing food production and family planning. Zia also removed the barriers to forming a political opposition, prompting 30 parties to run in the 1979 parliamentary elections. Zia's party that Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), won 207 of the 300 seats.

In 1981, Zia was murdered by military dissidents. The previous Vice President Abdus Sattar declared a state of emergency and called for new elections within six months. Sattar won this election but was severely challenged by Army Chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Its declared aim was the fight against corruption and increased involvement of the military in politics. Sattar refused to respond to the latter demand, and so Ershad replaced him with a peaceful coup, renewed martial law and declared himself a CMLA.

In 1983 Ershad named himself president and began to build a political existence under martial law. He announced elections and founded the Jatiyo party (JP). In 1986 martial law was repealed and the democratic constitution was put into effect. Ershad resigned from all military posts and was legally elected president in October 1986, not least because the BNP had boycotted the election.

When the AL left parliament in July 1987 and the entire opposition formed to resist Ershad, Ershad declared a state of emergency in November and dissolved parliament shortly afterwards on December 6th. New elections should take place in March of the following year.

The election was boycotted again by the BNP, and this time also by the AL, and Ershad won 250 out of 300 seats. The remaining seats were distributed among the independent candidates and small parties that had participated in the election. During this legislative period, Islam was officially declared the state religion in Bangladesh.

Difficult democracy after 1990

After the protests against Ershad had dragged on since 1989, they climaxed in late 1990 when the BNP and AL joined forces in a joint boycott. Protest rallies and general strikes increased the pressure on Ershad, who then resigned on December 4th of that year.

On February 27, 1991, the first elections without major irregularities took place in Bangladesh, from which the BNP emerged victorious. She formed a coalition with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of the murdered Ziaur Rahman, was appointed Prime Minister in a still presidential system.

In September 1991 it reinstated the parliamentary constitution. The new President of Bangladesh, with mainly representative duties, was Abdur Rahman Biswas.

In 1994, Khaleda refused to respond to massive calls for resignation from both the opposition and the people, whereupon the entire opposition resigned on December 28th. At their refusal, national strikes (hartals) proclaimed which reforms and the economic stabilization of the country severely impaired. In November 1995, President Biswas dissolved parliament and called new elections for February 1996. At the same time he called on Khaleda to continue running the government until then. The opposition then boycotted the elections and again called for strikes and transport blockades. Khaleda finally bowed to the pressure and stepped back.

New elections took place in June 1996, from which the AL emerged as the winner and a coalition with the Jatiya party formed. Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the AL, daughter of the "father of the nation", Mujibur Rahman, was appointed as the new Prime Minister.

Sheikh Hasina was the first female prime minister to end a full legislative period. Her successes include the economic upturn in Bangladesh and the signing of a peace agreement for the crisis region in the southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts. But corruption also flourished under her reign. In July 2000, she turned Judge Latifur Rahman over to chair the independent interim government, which was supposed to guarantee a fair election.

On October 1, 2001, a coalition of BNP won Jamaat-i-Islami and Jatiyo party the parliamentary elections. Begum Khaleda Zia has been the new Prime Minister for the second time since October 14th.


  • Winfried Böttcher (1986): Bangladesh in the Shadow of Power, Aachen
  • Craig A. Baxter and Syedur Rahman (1996): Historical dictionary of Bangladesh
  • Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose (1990): War and secession. Pakistan, India and the creation of Bangladesh, Berkeley / California
  • Charles Peter O’Donnell (1984): Bangladesh. Biography of a Muslim nation, Boulder / Colorado