The People's Republic of Bangladesh is a country in South Asia that forms the eastern part of the ancient region of Bengal. Bangladesh literally means "The Country of Bengal". Lying north of the Bay of Bengal, on land it borders India and Myanmar, and it is a close neighbor to China, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
There has long been advanced civilization in what is now Bangladesh, once the eastern part of a greater region called Bengal. There is recent evidence of civilizations dating back to 500 BC, and there are even claims of social structures from around 1000 BC. Early civilizations had Buddhist and/or Hindu influences. Northern Bangladesh has several sites of mass architecture, in the form of temples and monasteries, bearing proofs of such influences.
Bengal became Islamic starting in the 13th century and developed into a wealthy centre of trade and industry under the Mughal Empire during the 16th century. European traders had arrived in the late 15th century and eventually the British East India Company controlled the region by the late 18th century, from which the British extended their rule over all of India. When Indian independence was achieved in 1947, political motivations caused it to be divided into a predominantly Muslim Pakistan and a predominantly Hindu India.
The Partition of India saw Bengal divided between the two new countries: an eastern part called East Bengal corresponding to what is now Bangladesh, and a western part, the Indian state of West Bengal. The abolition of the Zamindari system (which divided the society into lords, owners of property, and commoners, users of property) in East Bengal (1950) was a major landmark in Bangladesh's movement to a "people's state". The Language Movement of 1952 established the rights of the Bengali community to speak in their own language. Worth mentioning, this was the only revolution that was done solely for preserving the rights to speak a language and for this reason, UNESCO recognized 21 February as International Mother Language Day. In 1955, the government of Pakistan changed the name of the province from East Bengal to East Pakistan.
Under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also known as Bôngobondhu (Friend of Bengal), Bangladesh started its struggle for independence. The official onset followed one of the bloodiest genocides of recent times carried out by the Pakistan army on Bengali civilians on 25 March 1971. Virtually the entire Bengali intelligentsia was eliminated. This genocide is one of the most horrible in terms of death toll in post World War II history. Owing to West Pakistan's effort to rid the country of foreign journalists, accurate numbers are difficult to get, but some estimates claim 50,000 deaths in the first three days of the so-called Operation Searchlight of the Pakistan Army. More than ten million Bengalis fled to neighbouring India.
The Bangladeshi Liberation War took place during the Cold War period. The United States and the People's Republic of China, considering the war an internal affair of Pakistan, preferred to back West Pakistan. However, India, the USSR and her allies and general masses in Japan, and Western countries stood solidly behind Bangladesh. To gain strategic advantage over the Sino-US-Pakistan axis, the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty was signed on 9 August 1971. India, owing to its geographical position and military antagonism towards Pakistan, vehemently backed the Liberation War, especially after the USSR backed its motives. Strategically, independence of Bangladesh would mean one fewer front to fight Pakistan on.
Within two weeks of the Indian invasion the Lieutenant-General A. A. K. Niazi of the Pakistan army surrendered to the Indian army on 16 December 1971. India took 93,000 prisoners of war who were held in camps in India to avoid reprisals by an enraged Bangladeshi population. The new nation of Bangladesh effectively came into being and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had been incarcerated in West Pakistan since March, returned triumphantly as the first Prime Minister of the new nation. India withdrew its troops from Bangladesh within three months of the war. Pakistan, aided by its supporters in Bangladesh, committed war crimes before and during the war and memories of Bangladeshis remain scarred to this day.
After the war, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the Prime Minister and later the President of Bangladesh. He along with most of his family were massacred by a group of disgruntled Army officers on 15 August 1975. Following his death, (Major General) Khaled Mosharraf led a military coup on 3 November 1975. Khaled Mosharraf was killed in a counter coup on 7 November 1975 in the Dhaka cantonment culminating in General Ziaur Rahman gaining power. He later gained the Presidency. But in 1981, he was killed in yet another coup, in Chittagong. In 1982 General Hossain Mohammad Ershad staged a bloodless coup and deposed the president Ahsan Uddin Choudhury, a former Supreme Court Justice. Ershad later declared himself President and started a new political party named Janadal, which he later renamed as Jatiya Party. The rule of Ershad continued until 1990. A popular uprising forced Ershad to resign and give way to a parliamentary democracy. Since then, Bangladesh has been ruled by three democratically elected governments.