Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Bangladesh (East Pakistan)

Capital : Decca

Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi

Size: 56 000 sq m Popn: 119 288 000


This country comprises what were the province of East Bengal and the Sylhet district of Assam under British India. It is predominantly Muslim and became the eastern province of Pakistan in 1947 but cultural and linguistic differences and the 1000 mile distance between them created problems from the beginning. East Pakistan resented the political and military dominance of West Pakistan during the 1950s and 60s and the movement for political autonomy began in 1954 under the Awani League led by Sheik Mujibur Rahman. It was strengthened in 1971 when West Pakistan showed indifference to the deaths in floods of 500 000 people in East Pakistan.

The Awani League won a huge victory in East Pakistan when Pakistan's first elections were held in 1970 and an overall majority in the all-Pakistan national assembly. Talks on redrawing the constitution failed, East Pakistan seceded and a Bangladesh (Bengal Nation) government in exile was set up in Calcutta, India in 1971. The resulting civil war drove 10 million East Pakistan refugees into India and led to administrative breakdown, famine and cholera outbreaks. The West Pakistan troops in East Pakistan surrendered after India backed the secession and the republic of Bangladesh was proclaimed in 1972 with Sheik Mujibar Rahman as the first prime minister under a secular parliamentary constitution. He began a socialist economic programme of nationalization but his intolerance of opposition parties led to his assassination with members of his family in the military coup of 1975.

General Zia ur-Rahman became the chief administrator of martial law in 1976 and president in 1977. He adopted an Islamic constitution and lifted martial law and the state of emergency when his Bangladesh Nationalist Party gained a parliamentary majority in 1979 but was weakened by corruption charges and guerrilla actions in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and was assassinated in May 1981. In March 1982, the civilian government was overthrown by Lt-Gen Mohammad Hussain Ershad who reinstated martial law and banned political parties. The economy improved but an opposition coalition, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, was formed. The parliamentary elections of May 1986 were largely boycotted by the opposition and his Jatiya Dal party having won a two-thirds majority, Ershad was re-elected president in October.

The Awami League mounted a campaign for his resignation and free elections and Ershad proclaimed a state of emergency in 1987 after violent strikes and demonstrations. Jatiya Dal had a sweeping victory in the elections of March 1988 due to opposition boycott and ballot-rigging and the state of emergency was lifted in April. In June 1988, parliament passed a bill which made Islam the state religion. The long campaign to remove Ershad eventually succeeded with his resignation in December 1990 and chief justice Shahabuddin Ahmad became interim executive president. The BNP gained 140 of the 300 seats in the elections of February 1991 and its leader, Begum Khaleda Zia, became Bangladesh's first woman prime minister. The parliamentary system of government was restored, and the BNP won an absolute parliamentary majority in by-elections later in the year. The speaker, Abdur Rahman Biswas, was elected president.

The country was recognised by the Commonwealth in 1972 and remains a member. It is still dependent on foreign economic aid but has tried to remain non-aligned. Relations with India have deteriorated since disputes over sharing the Ganges water and the refugee problem and a frontier fence has been built by India. About 60 000 Muslim refugees from the military crackdown in Myanmar (Burma) arrived in January 1992.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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