Bangladesh

An independent state of Bangladesh was proclaimed on March 26, 1971. Read this country profile to learn more about the history and geography of the Bengali nation.
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Map of Bangladesh
Map of Bangladesh
People's Republic of Bangladesh

President: Iajuddin Ahmed (2002)

Prime Minister: Sheikh Hasina (2009)

Land area: 51,703 sq mi (133,911 sq km); total area: 55,598 sq mi (144,000 sq km)

Population (2008 est.): 153,546,901 (growth rate: 2.0%); birth rate: 28.8/1000; infant mortality rate: 57.4/1000; life expectancy: 63.2; density per sq km: 1,146

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Dhaka, 12,560,000 (metro.area), 5,378,023 (city proper)

Other large cities: Chittagong, 2,592,400; Khulna, 1,211,500

Monetary unit: Taka

Principal languages: Bangla (official), English

Ethnicity/race: Bengali 98%, tribal groups, non-Bengali Muslims (1998)

Religions: Islam 83%, Hindu 16%, other 1% (1998)

National Holiday: Independence Day, March 26

Literacy rate: 43% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $301.4 billion; per capita $2,100. Real growth rate: 5.4%. Inflation: 6.7%. Unemployment: 2.5% (includes underemployment). Arable land: 55.39%. Agriculture: rice, jute, tea, wheat, sugarcane, potatoes, tobacco, pulses, oilseeds, spices, fruit; beef, milk, poultry. Labor force: 66.6 million; note: extensive export of labor to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Malaysia; agriculture 63%, industry 11%, services 26% (FY95/96). Industries: cotton textiles, jute, garments, tea processing, paper newsprint, cement, chemical fertilizer, light engineering, sugar. Natural resources: natural gas, arable land, timber, coal. Exports: $9.372 billion (2005 est.): garments, jute and jute goods, leather, frozen fish and seafood (2001). Imports: $12.97 billion (2005 est.): machinery and equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, foodstuffs, petroleum products, cement (2000). Major trading partners: U.S., Germany, UK, France, Italy, India, China, Singapore, Kuwait, Japan, Hong Kong (2004).

Member of Commonwealth of Nations

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 831,000 (2004); mobile cellular: 2,781,600 (2004). Radio broadcast stations: AM 15, FM 13, shortwave 2 (2006) Television broadcast stations: 15 (1999). Internet hosts: 266 (2005). Internet users: 300,000 (2005).

Transportation: Railways: total: 2,706 km (2004). Highways: total: 239,226 km; paved: 22,726 km; unpaved: 216,500 km (2003). Waterways: 8,372 km; note: includes 2,635 km main cargo routes (2005). Ports and harbors: Chittagong, Mongla Port. Airports: 16 (2005).

International disputes: discussions with India remain stalled to delimit a small section of river boundary, exchange 162 miniscule enclaves in both countries, allocate divided villages, and stop illegal cross-border trade, migration, violence, and transit of terrorists through the porous border; Bangladesh resists India's attempts to fence or wall off high-traffic sections of the porous boundary; a joint Bangladesh-India boundary inspection in 2005 revealed 92 pillars are missing; dispute with India over New Moore/South Talpatty/Purbasha Island in the Bay of Bengal deters maritime boundary delimitation; Burmese Muslim refugees strain Bangladesh's meager resources

Flag of Bangladesh

Geography

Bangladesh, on the northern coast of the Bay of Bengal, is surrounded by India, with a small common border with Myanmar in the southeast. The country is low-lying riverine land traversed by the many branches and tributaries of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Tropical monsoons and frequent floods and cyclones inflict heavy damage in the delta region.

Government

Parliamentary democracy.

History

What is now called Bangladesh is part of the historic region of Bengal, the northeast portion of the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh consists primarily of East Bengal (West Bengal is part of India and its people are primarily Hindu) plus the Sylhet district of the Indian state of Assam.

The earliest reference to the region was to a kingdom called Vanga, or Banga (c. 1000 B.C.). Buddhists ruled for centuries, but by the 10th century Bengal was primarily Hindu. In 1576, Bengal became part of the Mogul Empire, and the majority of East Bengalis converted to Islam. Bengal was ruled by British India from 1757 until Britain withdrew in 1947, and Pakistan was founded out of the two predominantly Muslim regions of the Indian subcontinent. For almost 25 years after independence from Britain, its history was part of Pakistan's.

West Pakistan and East Pakistan were united by religion (Islam), but their peoples were separated by culture, physical features, and 1609 kms of Indian territory.

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 recognise 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.

Investigations into Governmental Corruption Begin

Violence erupted in Oct. 2006, when Zia's term ended and President Ahmed took over as the head of a caretaker administration. An alliance of parties, headed by the Awami League, said it would boycott the Jan. 2007 elections, alleging corruption in the electoral commission. The violence intensified in Jan. 2007, prompting President Ahmed to declare a state of emergency and postpone the elections. Fakhruddin Ahmed became the interim head of the government. He swiftly opened a broad corruption investigation that resulted in the imprisonment of dozens of prominent officials, the seizure of luxury vehicles, and the freezing of bank accounts. In March, Tarique Rahman, the son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, was arrested in the investigation and charged with extortion. Khaleda Zia herself was arrested and charged with corruption in September. In addition, Sheikh Hasina was arrested and charged with corruption and organising the murder of four supporters of a rival party.

Mudslides set off by heavy monsoon rains killed at least 100 people in June 2007 in Chittagong, a port in the southern part of the country. In November, Cyclone Sidr, with winds over 100 miles per hour, killed nearly 3,500 people in southern Bangladesh. The United Nations reported that a million people were left homeless.

Bangladesh went ahead with its general election in December 2008. It was the first general election since the army-backed caretaker government took power in January 2007. The Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina, won in a landslide, taking 262 of 299 seats in Parliament. The vote was considered fair and largely free of scandal. Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as prime minister in January 2009.

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