The history of Bangladesh is often described as a history of conflicts, power shifts and disasters. The earliest historical references to political life in the Bangladesh occur in writings recounting Alexander the Great's invasion of India in 326 BCE (Before the Common Era). Greek and Latin historians hypothesized that Alexander the Great withdrew from India anticipating the valiant counter attack from the empires of the Bengal region.
The first Muslims came to the area around 13th Century CE seizing control and establishing independent rule. During the 15th Century many European traders began coming to the region. The Portuguese came first, followed by the Dutch, French and then the British. At first the Europeans exerted only economic influence over South Asia, but by the late 1750's with the defeat of the last Muslim leader of Bengal, the British imposed political rule over the region as well. The British would control the area known as West Bengal for nearly two hundred years.
In 1945, at the close of World War II, the British were strongly pressured to reduce the size of their empire. Viceroy Lord Mountbattan was assigned the task of restoring the subcontinent's sovereignty. He worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi to unite the two major religious groups of the area, Hindus and Muslims. Despite Gandhi's even-handed approach, Muslims were concerned that an independent India would be dominated by Hindus. Considering an agreement between the two groups to be impossible, Mountbatten decided to partition the subcontinent. In June 1947 the United Kingdom declared it would grant full dominion status to two successor states: India and Pakistan. India would become the Hindu state and Pakistan, the Muslim state. The latter would consist of two non-continuous areas: Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east. For months following the partition, a horrific bloody exodus took place as Hindus moved out of both wings of Pakistan and into India; conversely, Muslims moved out of India and into the new Muslim states.
The two regions became known as West Pakistan (Punjab) and East Pakistan (Bengal). Besides sharing the Muslim faith the two areas had little in common. They were separated by nearly 1,600 km of Indian land, spoke different languages (Urdu in the West, Bangla in the East) and had different cultural histories. There were large economic disparities between East and West Pakistan, which fueled resentment among the citizens of East Pakistan. Further, it was felt by many in the East that the country administrated unfairly by those in West Pakistan, where the country's capital was located. The final blow came when the government declared that 'Urdu and only Urdu' would be the national language of all Pakistan. This was a language that virtually no one in East Pakistan spoke.
Bangladesh becomes an Independent Nation
The Bangla-speaking Bengali nationalists and academicians decided it was time to assert them. The issue of national language quickly built into one of self-government. When a political party that espoused separation of West and East Pakistan won a majority in the 1971 national elections, the President of Pakistan refused to open the National Assembly, effectively repudiating the election result. Riots quickly followed and the independent State of Bangla-desh (desh = land or country) was quickly announced. Pakistan, in turn, sent troops to quell the uprising.
The war that followed was one of the shortest and bloodiest of this century. The Pakistani army quickly occupied all major towns and violently suppressed those favoring separation. Border clashes between India and Pakistan intensified as Indian-trained guerrillas began crossing the border into West Bengal to support the independence movement. The Pakistani Air Force made a pre-emptive attack on Indian forces in December 1971 and precipitated an all out war between the India and Pakistan. The Pakistani army found itself being attacked from all directions. The war officially lasted nine months with causality estimates topping three million. When it was all over, Bangladesh had become the 139th country in the world.