Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan in 1971. To understand the history of the independence of Bangladesh, one must first understand the history of the creation of Pakistan.
Creation of Pakistan
In 1947, Pakistan separated from India. The partition was brought about because of a “two-nation” proposition that argued that Muslims and Hindus in India were both ‘nations’ who could not live together. This partition made Pakistan the first modern-nation to be formed based on the religion of its citizens. Part of the partition included a region called East Bengal which brought about confusion among people. The confusion arose because the people and cultures of East Bengal were different. After the partition, present-day Pakistan was called West Pakistan while present-day Bangladesh was called East Pakistan. The problem began when the west elected to impose Urdu as the east’s official language. This attempt brought about an opposition movement based on the linguistics and culture of the people of East Pakistan which led to a struggle between the east and the west for twenty-four years.
Other Causes of the East-West Conflict
One of the main causes was economic neglect and exploitation of the east by the west. Data shows that the less populated west allocated itself more money than the more populous East Pakistan. For example, the number of textile mills in East Pakistan was eleven while that of the west was nine in 1948. In 1971, the west had allocated a lot of resources to itself increasing the mills from eleven to a whopping 150 while the east had a meager growth from nine to twenty-six. Further, during that time, an estimated total of $2.6 billion was transferred from the east to the west.
Secondly, religion was a crucial factor in the partitioning and subsequent establishment of Pakistan. During that time, at least 97% of Pakistanis in the west were Muslims while East Pakistan was made up of plenty of cultures and religions with Muslims forming around 15% of the population. So when religion became an issue, the proud people of the east refused to give in and fought for their freedom. The appreciation for the vast cultures and religion was made clearer when Bangladesh decided to call itself the “People’s Republic of Bangladesh” instead of “Islamic Republic of Bangladesh.”
Another issue was the close ties that East Pakistan had with West Bengal since most of them were Bengalis. West Pakistan viewed the east unfavorable because of the east’s close association with India. This association was a problem because Pakistan and India had very poor relations. Compounding the issue was the conflict that involved Urdu as the official language of the east.
Bangladesh’s Independence Day
After several years of conflict and civil strife, there was hope for East Pakistan. In the 1970-71 elections of East Pakistan, a separatist movement called the Awami League won. Leaders of East and West Pakistan sat down for talks, but they broke down, and no agreement was reached. As a result, Sheikh Mujibar Rahman declared Bangladesh an independent nation from Pakistan on March 26, 1971. Following the announcement, a guerilla struggle ensued as the west refused to let the east secede. Bangladesh eventually defeated Pakistan with assistance from the USSR and India ending the war on December 16, 1971.