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History of Bangladesh
Historians believe Bangladesh may take its name from the Bang tribe that settled in the region around 1000 BC. The first written record dates to Alexander the Great’s campaigns in India in the fourth century BC. According to legend, Alexander’s generals refused to fight the armies of the mighty Gangaridai and Prasioi civilizations in Bengal.
Buddhism spread during the Mauryan Empire, which rose to power toward the end of the fourth century BC. The empire eventually disintegrated into a number of small kingdoms. Various Buddhist and Hindu rulers controlled the area until AD 1204. In the 13th century, Muslims began to conquer Hindus and subsequently ruled for five hundred years. The British East India Company took control in 1757, ceding authority to the British government in 1857.
When British rule ended in 1947, the area became part of the new nation of Pakistan, called East Pakistan. While linked by religion, the two areas were separated culturally and geographically. East Pakistan did not feel it enjoyed equality with West Pakistan. In 1956, student protests led to the adoption of Bangla as the state language. Calls for autonomy peaked in1971 and were followed by a nine-month civil war. The war eventually involved India, which had been flooded by refugees. After a stranded Pakistani army surrendered to Indian forces, Bangladesh became independent. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League political party, became the first president and is considered the father of the country. However, he was assassinated in a 1975 coup.
Following a shaky interim period, General Ziaur Rahman governed from 1977 to 1981, when he was assassinated. Hussain Mohammed Ershad took control and governed until 1990,when public protests forced his resignation. Free national elections in 1991 brought Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman, to office. Challenged by natural disasters, regional problems, and a long-running insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Khaleda eventually bowed to strikes and public pressure and resigned. A neutral caretaker government held elections in1996. Voter turnout was high, and Sheikh Hasina Wazed (daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and leader of the Awami League) led her party to victory over Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Hasina signed a peace treaty in 1997 with Chakma tribal leaders to end the Chittagong Hill Tracts war, give local people more autonomy, and open the door to economic and tourist development for that region. However, the 2001 national elections produced a decisive victory for Khaleda and the BNP, though they were marked by widespread political violence. Hasina accepted defeat and peacefully transferred power, becoming the first prime minister to complete a term in office since Bangladesh’s independence. Despite this positive step, instability and strikes continue to plague the nation.
“People’s Republic of Bangladesh.” CultureGrams World Edition. 2008.