Golden Bengal, farmers during the summer time.

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a country of 160 million people is often little known to the rest of world. The country was founded assafter a bloody war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. East Bengal modern day Bangladesh was subsumed into Pakistan after the collapse of the British Empire, as the movement for a separate State of Bengal failed politically. The two-state movement from the West of India of that time overtook the plans for a sovereign united Bengal State. The primary advocates of a Bengal State in 1947 were Sharat Chandra Bose, Hussein Shaheed Surwardy, Abul Hashem and A. K. Fazlul Huq along with many others. The Pakistan movement with enormous funding and exposure eventually overtook the Bengal State movement, thus, Bangladesh’s brief history of just over 2 decades with Pakistan.

The struggles of an over 200 year colonial past and its self-determining independence have made the people of this country patriotic. The area of Bangladesh spans around 147,610 km2, and remains one of the most densely populated countries in the world today. Bangladesh is one of the emerging economies with a speeding economic growth rate. The country specialises in exporting Jute, Textiles, Leather, Ship recycling and various other goods and services. The domestic market is rapidly increasing and development in this country is sublime. People’s Republic of Bangladesh has a positive relation with all the neighbouring countries and most of the countries in the world today. Bangladesh is founded on the principles of representative democracy and is today focussed on its development.

A view of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta

The country is situated in the Ganges-Bhramaputra river delta in the Subcontinent (the largest river delta in the world). It is argued to be the one of the most fertile regions on earth. With its tropical environment and free flowing rivers the area has transformed into a haven for farming. Historically, the life standards have been highly prosperous (excluding the dark times during the British Empire) as it had an abundant supply of fishery and farming. Farming is one of the indicators or rather instigators of civilisation. Therefore, historically the province of Bengal has been recorded to be amongst the richest ancient civilisations.

The oldest city in Bangladesh dating back to 3rd Century B.C. Mahasthangar, Bogra.

Estimated by archaeologists, the first settlers of this region are dated back to be around 20,000 years coming from greater Eurasia. However, with the available archaeological evidence the first settlements are recorded to be from 4,000 years dating back to the Copper Age. The settlers mainly spoke Austric or Austro-Asiatic languages that eventually evolved into Bengali, a contemporary language of Sangskrit of the Indian civilisation.

Bengal has had dominating kingdoms, including the kingdoms of Gangaridai, Pundra, Suhma Vanga and Harikela. Some of these kingdoms spanned control of major areas in the Subcontinent. Evidently, there are links with the Ancient Dravidian and Tibeto settlers in Bengal. Additionally, there was more modern settling from the Middle-East and Africa when Islam first entered the province around the 12th Century through Sufi missionaries (Tariqah). These missionaries have transformed Bengal into the most populated Muslim majority province in all of the Indian Subcontinent. Which enabled the founding of the Bengal Sultanate much later by Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah in the 14th century.

The Capital of the Sultanate. Panam City, Sonargaon.

The time of the Sultanate of Bengal, saw merchants from the greatest nations at the time travelling to trade in the ‘Golden Bengal’. The country was a culturally diverse and was flooded with merchants from Africa, Eurasia and the Middle-East. The climate favoured the thriving agriculture, a flourishing textiles production and other manufacturing enabled a rapid increase in the livelihood of Bengal. The Sultanate of Bengal was among the richest in Asia at the time. It had its closest relations with the Ming Dynasty of China while having mixed relations with the Delhi Sultanate. After a near 2 centuries of prosperous autonomy the Sultanate of Bengal was conquered by the Mughal Empire under Akbar the Great (Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar) replaced it with the Subah. The Bengal Subah under the Mughal Empire was the most prosperous times in its 4000 year old history. That attracted trade from almost all corners of the earth.

A French artist’s illustration of the Englishmen begging for pardon from the Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb.

During the time of Mughal Emperor Aurenzeb (Muzzafir Muhiuddin Muhammad) Bengal witnessed its richest times in its recorded history. The Subahdar of Bengal under Shaista Khan (Mirza Abu Talib) was recorded to have a currency value of 1 taka per 8 mon of rice (approximately 295kg). Definitively, this made Bengal the richest province in the entirety of the Mughal Empire and arguably the richest province in the world at the time. This attracted the British East India Company, Dutch East India Company, the Portugese and the French to conduct trade in Bengal. As the European empires eyed an annexation of Bengal to feed their empires, the British Imperialists eventually managed to annex Bengal and consequently that fuelled the industrial revolution which helped them to become one of the most formidable empires in the recent past. In 1686 saw the British East India Company attacked ships on route to Hejaz with Hajj bound pilgrims due to some disagreements with the Subah. The response from the governor Shaista Khan handed a decisive defeat to the British and required them to grovel for permission to continue their trade in Bengal.

Battle of Plassey, British Imperialists win against a betrayed Bengal Army.

Nevertheless, the British managed to conquer Bengal in the 1757 against a betrayed army of then governor Siraj-ud-Daulah. The Bengal army faced a defector Mir Zafar who was bribed in advance to betray his own nephew Siraj-ud-Daulah in exchange for the Nawab status of a British annexed Bengal. This ended Bengal’s peak and turned it into a provider for the Empire. The people of Bengal continued to struggle for independence, the Indigo Revolt in 1859, the Sepoy Revolt in 1857, and various other attempts for its emancipation which were crushed by the imperialists. Additionally, during the 200 years under the British Empire, Bengal faced its worst famines around 4 major famines in the 19th and 20th centuries alone, caused by the heavy taxation and tariffs on Bengali goods and land thus leaving Bengal plundered of its riches.

The proposed area of a Greater Bengal in Lahore Resolution 1940, which was scraped by the Pakistan Movement.

Right before the First World War the Bengal territory was split into two halves in the year 1909. Eventually, the two costly World Wars led to the demise of the imperialism of the British Empire. With persistence the struggles for emancipation continued until its last days of the colonial era. However, before the British left India, Bengal was placed into Pakistan. Which did not go all too well as the two provinces were separated by over 2,000km. The political establishment failed to serve a post-colonial Bengal. Thus, the Bengali struggle continued. In 1952, the military Dictatorship in West Pakistan tried to implement totalitarian measures by limiting language rights, which was overruled at the expense of the blood of student protestors. Eventually, after 24 years of mismatch The Six Point movement under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for the last struggle of independence. After the election of 1970 it was clear, Bengalis will be denied their rights as long as they are not liberated. Ultimately, the brutal war of 1971 that followed brought about the bloody birth of Bangladesh.

7th March 1971, the call for independence.

Since the glorious war of independence in 1971, the country has been introduced into the international arena. Bangladesh faced challenges in its early days at the height of the Cold War. It was obvious both sides of the Cold War was at a time right after the Cuban Missile Crisis and wanted to avoid another major crisis. Bangladesh was left in the midst of an anarchic international system right after its birth trying to gain recognition from others. To understand Bangladesh’s current situation it is vital to recognise the history of Bengal.

The struggle of emancipation for Bengalis continued until the late 20th century when the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was finally free of the shackles of oppression. That is when the Bengalis started to glimpse the true liberation after generations of subjugation. The improvements in quality of life started to give the taste of prosperity it once had in the pre-colonial era.

After the independence constant change of government significantly destabilised the country and slowed its progress. After the revival of Bengal due to political stability in the last two and a half decades Bangladesh has seen the light of prosperity once again. The growth of economy and standard of living has been quite rapidly increasing in the recent times. There still remains plenty of work to be done. The current development focus is on improving living standards, infrastructure and reduction of poverty in rural areas. Nonetheless, the success of Bangladesh has included the reduction of child mortality, increase of overall health care, exporting various goods & services, bringing foreign remittances and its progresses in social well-being. The progress and opportunities have made Bangladesh a more optimistic nation. The problem of this region in the past two centuries has been poverty and Bangladesh as an independent nation takes up the challenge of eliminating it. The economy of Bangladesh remains heavily dependent on exports primarily on Jute, Textiles, Pharmaceuticals and Leather goods. Recently the service and IT industries, as well as electronic production have increased. In order to achieve greater success the industries of Bangladesh is in need of diversification.

Jatiya Shangshad, Dhaka.

From a geopolitical lens, Bangladesh remains a non-aligned highly welcoming state. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh gets along with all of its neighbours and aims to continue a healthy relationship. The most important allies of Bangladesh remain India, China and Japan these three countries have had remarkable amounts of economic activities and had great contributions to the development of the state. In addition, Bangladesh enjoys a healthy relationship with the Middle-Eastern countries where a lot of Bangladeshi servicemen work. Approximately, in the millions are working in the Gulf region from Bangladesh alone and they contribute significantly to the economy. Moreover, Bangladesh has economic ties with the European Union, United Kingdom and the United States as they are one of the chief importers of Bangladeshi goods. Additionally, since the independence there has been a friendly relationship with Russia and Eastern Europe. There is a significant amount of trade between Eastern European countries and Bangladesh. Also, development agreements have been signed with Russia. Japan and Bangladesh has a very warm relationship, as Japan has volunteered for most of the development projects to date.

In recent years, the Government of Bangladesh has agreed on strategic alliances with India and China. As the World of politics shifts like clashing tectonic plates, the time for Bangladesh has come to make closer ties with its neighbours and continue its amiable approach. Bangladesh is part of the The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) for various sectors including trading, strategic, economic and development cooperation with the member states, countries including: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

Furthermore, Bangladesh is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), where it has been active in promoting the interests of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  Bangladesh is also a member of the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) and the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), both under the umbrella of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Bangladesh has followed a policy of trade liberalisation between LDCs in Asia and continues to advocate for development in the greater South Asian region.

Bangladesh is looking for investments from its friends and allies, as the booming economy will benefit the development of the country as well as the investors. Recently, there have been times when the Government of Bangladesh had some political disagreements with the Government of Myanmar. However, the People of Bangladesh and Myanmar remain respectful and friendly to one another. There is also a need for Bangladesh to reach out to the world especially in Africa, South America and Asia-Pacific for better trading opportunities as the economy of the country grows.

References and Further Readings:

  1. Bangladesh Government (2017) Bangladesh Government, Available at: http://www.bangladesh.gov.bd/?lang=en.
  2. Harun-or-Rashid (1987) The Foreshadowing of Bangladesh: Bengal Muslim League and Muslim Politics, 1906-1947, Bangladesh: Asiatic Society.
  3. Karim, A., 1985. Social History of the Muslims in Bengal: Down to AD 1538. Baitush Sharaf Islamic Research Institute.
  4. Majumdar, R.C. and Sarkar, J. eds., 1943. The History of Bengal (Vol. 2). University of Dacca.
  5. Monahan, F.J., 1926. The early history of Bengal.
  6. Tharoor, S. (2017) Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, India: C. Hurst.

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