Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture

By John S. Bowman | Go to book overview
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The early history of Bangladesh falls within the chronology of India, where until 1947 it is effectively the easternmost province, known as East Bengal. Upon the partition of India and Pakistan in that year, Islamic East Bengal becomes the eastern wing of Pakistan. (The East Pakistan period [1947–1971] is dealt with in the chapter on Pakistan, and includes the years of struggle for independence.)

East Pakistan achieves independence as Bangladesh (Land of the Bengalis) only after a civil war and the intervention of India in 1971. The country's first prime minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, almost immediately imposes martial law, and the political history of Bangladesh is an unhappy narrative of dictatorship punctuated by coups, assassinations, and brief experiments in constitutional democracy. Underneath it all lies a country constantly struggling with the relentless pressures of its natural environment, its population, and its poverty.

December 1970: Elections are held throughout Pakistan to choose an assembly that will write a new constitution. The Awami League, the party based in East Pakistan and led by Sheik Mujibar Rahman, wins a majority and calls for self-government of East Pakistan.

The road to you is blocked By temples and mosques.

I hear your call, my lord, But I cannot advance— Masters and teachers bar my way….

Spiritual song by Madan Baul (19th century)

March 1, 1971: Determined not to let the Awami League have its way, Pakistan's president Yahya Khan postpones the first meeting of the newly elected assembly. Demonstrations begin to unsettle East Pakistan.

March 25, 1971: Yahya Khan declares an emergency in East Pakistan, bans the Awami League, and arrests Rahman. Pakistan's army attacks demonstrating Bengali separatists in East Pakistan. Civil war breaks out.

March 26, 1971: A group of Bangladeshi nationalists make a covert radio broadcast in East Pakistan calling for independence from Pakistan. This event will be observed as Bangladesh's Independence Day.

April 17, 1971: Nationalist leaders in East Pak


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