Bangladesh—officially known as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh—is a country of 55,598 square miles in South Asia.
Bangladesh translates as the “Country of Bengal.” Geographically Bangladesh shares a small border with Myanmar in the southeast, and the rest is surrounded by India except for the Bay of Bengal to the south. Bangladesh, whose capital is Dhaka, had an estimated 2005 population of over 141,800,000. Officially the government is a parliamentary republic that declared independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971. (The total population of Bangladesh recently ranked eighth in the world but the land area 94th. Hence the population density ranks near the top of all countries in the world. Its climate is marked by frequent monsoons and cyclones.
The partition of India in 1947 resulted in the division of Bengal according to religion. The western section of Bengal went to India and the eastern to Pakistan as a province that would become East Pakistan. During the 1960s, East Pakistan began to push for autonomy. A 1970 cyclone, according to many experts, may have acted as a tipping point in the push for an independent East Pakistan. Many charged that the central government responded poorly to the disaster. Unrest spread when the Awami League and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a majority in parliamentary elections but were not permitted to take office. These events led to the Bengali Liberation War that lasted for nine months. Support from Indian armed forces in December of 1971 led to independence and the establishment of Bangladesh.
Politically Bangladesh has two major parties—the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Bangladesh Awami League. The BNP gains support from a number of radical Islamic parties including Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and Islami Oikya Jot. The rivalry between the BNP and the Awami League has often led to protests and violence. Students are quite active in politics and reflect the historical legacy of liberation politics. In February of 2005 two Islamic parties—Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB)—were banned after a series of terrorist attacks and bombings.
Bangladesh is located on the Ganges Delta. Most of Bangladesh is no more than 10 meters above sea level. Therefore some scientists suggest that a rise of the water only one meter above sea level would flood approximately 10 percent of the land in the country. The country is underdeveloped and overpopulated, with recent per capita income of only approximately $440. World Bank reports, however, have praised Bangladesh for progress in literacy, gains in education, and the reduction of population growth. Between 1990 and 1996 the economy grew at an annual rate of 5 percent. Its economic development is stymied by cyclones and floods, inefficient state enterprises, lack of power as well as corruption, and a rapidly growing population.
Matthew H. Wahlert