The Formation of an Independent Bangladesh
Tension between East and West Pakistan existed
from the outset because of their vast geographic, economic, and cultural
differences. East Pakistan's Awami League, a political party founded by
the Bengali nationalist Sheik Mujibur Rahman in 1949, sought independence
from West Pakistan. Although 56% of the population resided in East
Pakistan, the West held the lion's share of political and economic power.
In 1970, East Pakistanis secured a majority of the seats in the national
assembly. President Yahya Khan postponed the opening of the national
assembly in an attempt to circumvent East Pakistan's demand for greater
autonomy. As a consequence, East Pakistan seceded and the independent
state of Bangladesh, or Bengali nation, was proclaimed on March 26, 1971.
Civil war broke out, and with the help of Indian troops in the last few
weeks of the war, East Pakistan defeated West Pakistan on Dec. 16, 1971.
An estimated one million Bengalis were killed in the fighting or later
slaughtered. Ten million more took refuge in India. In Feb. 1974, Pakistan
agreed to recognize the independent state of Bangladesh.
Founding president Sheikh Mujibur was
assassinated in 1975, as was the next president, Zia ur-Rahman. On March
24, 1982, Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad, army chief of staff, took control
in a bloodless coup but was forced to resign on Dec. 6, 1990, amid violent
protests and numerous allegations of corruption. A succession of prime
ministers governed in the 1990s, including Khaleda Zia, wife of the
assassinated president Zia ur-Rahman, and Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the
daughter of Sheik Mujibur.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina completed her
five-year term as prime minister in July 2000—the first leader to do
so since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1974. In Oct.
2001 elections, Khaleda Zia again won the prime ministership.
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