Country Profile: Bangladesh

Recent estimates say Bangladesh has a population well over 131 million, making it one of the 10 most populous countries in the world. But political strife since its inception in the 1970s has also made the country one of the poorest.

Bangladesh is also one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. More than 80 percent of the people are practicing Sunni Muslims, although there is a small Shiite community. More than 20 percent of its entire population lives in Dhaka, the capital and largest city of the country.

With such a large population, poverty is rampant, and there is a lack of educational and medical resources. Only about 51 percent of all Bangladeshis are literate, and the unemployment rate is also very high. Bangladesh depends heavily on foreign aid.

Won Independence From Pakistan in 1971

Bangladesh was first part of British India, and then later a province of Pakistan. It was known as East Pakistan. But it was a long way from the central government, and problems ensued.

Under West Pakistani rule, East Pakistan suffered severe economic neglect, despite the fact that it produced large quantities of agricultural goods, including most of the world's jute. However, East Pakistan received little investment in such basic items as transportation facilities and industrial plants.

In May of 1971, fighting erupted between East and West Pakistan, with millions fleeing to India.

In December of that year, India sent forces to aid East Pakistan and shortly after, West Pakistan surrendered its claims.

In 1972, Bangladesh became a parliamentary democracy with a new constitution.

Tensions in the region eased and by 1974, Pakistan officially recognized Bangladesh as an independent country. It was also admitted into the United Nations.

But despite the popularity of leader Sheik Mujibir Rahman, known as Mujib, high inflation rates, severe floods and famine resulted in a governmental crisis. As the country's economic and social problems worsened, Mujib was assassinated in a military coup in 1975, and later coups resulted in a period of military control.

By 1979, martial law was lifted but in March 1982, Lt. Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad came to power in a coup and returned the country to martial law.

During his reign, which lasted until his resignation in 1990, Ershad proposed that all schools teach Arabic and the Koran, sparking demonstrations and riots in 1983. He later lifted martial law and reinstated the country's constitution, due to increased public pressure.

Today, the country is a democratic republic led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

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