On 3 June 1947 Mountbatten Plan outlined the partition of British India. On 20 June, the Bengal Legislative Assembly met to decide on the partition of Bengal. At the preliminary joint meeting, it was decided (120 votes to 90) that if the province remained united it should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. At a separate meeting of legislators from West Bengal, it was decided (58 votes to 21) that the province should be partitioned and West Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of India. At another meeting of legislators from East Bengal, it was decided (106 votes to 35) that the province should not be partitioned and (107 votes to 34) that East Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan if Bengal was partitioned. On 6 July, the Sylhet region of Assam voted in a referendum to join East Bengal. Cyril Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the borders of Pakistan and India, and the Radcliffe Line established the borders of present-day Bangladesh. The Dominion of Pakistan was created on 14 August 1947.
Map of the world, with Pakistan in 1947 highlighted The Dominion of Pakistan in 1947, with East Bengal its eastern part
East Bengal, with Dhaka its capital, was the most populous province of the 1947 Pakistani federation (led by Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who promised freedom of religion and secular democracy in the new state). East Bengal was also Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan province, home to peoples of different faiths, cultures and ethnic groups. Partition gave increased economic opportunity to East Bengalis, producing an urban population during the 1950s.
Pakistan adopted its first constitution in 1956. Three Bengalis were its Prime Minister until 1957: Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali of Bogra and Suhrawardy. None of the three completed their terms, and resigned from office. The Pakistan Army imposed military rule in 1958, and Ayub Khan was the country’s strongman for 11 years. Political repression increased after the coup. Khan introduced a new constitution in 1962, replacing Pakistan’s parliamentary system with a presidential and gubernatorial system (based on electoral college selection) known as Basic Democracy. In 1962 Dhaka became the seat of the National Assembly of Pakistan, a move seen as appeasing increased Bengali nationalism. The Pakistani government built the controversial Kaptai Dam, displacing the Chakma people from their indigenous homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. During the 1965 presidential election, Fatima Jinnah lost to Ayub Khan despite support from the Combined Opposition alliance (which included the Awami League). The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 blocked cross-border transport links with neighboring India in what is described as a second partition. In 1966, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced a six point movement for a federal parliamentary democracy.
Earl Warren and Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan shake hands as a third man looks on U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren meets Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, the plaintiff in Federation of Pakistan v. Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan.
According to senior World Bank officials, Pakistan practiced extensive economic discrimination against East Pakistan: greater government spending on West Pakistan, financial transfers from East to West Pakistan, the use of East Pakistan’s foreign-exchange surpluses to finance West Pakistani imports, and refusal by the central government to release funds allocated to East Pakistan because previous spending had been under budget; East Pakistan generated 70 percent of Pakistan’s export revenue with its jute and tea. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested for treason in the Agartala Conspiracy Case, and was released during the 1969 uprising in East Pakistan which resulted in Ayub Khan’s resignation. General Yahya Khan assumed power, reintroducing martial law.
Ethnic and linguistic discrimination was common in Pakistan’s civil and military services, in which Bengalis were under-represented. Fifteen percent of Pakistani central-government offices were occupied by East Pakistanis, who formed 10 percent of the military. Cultural discrimination also prevailed, making East Pakistan forge a distinct political identity. Pakistan banned Bengali literature and music in state media, including the works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. A cyclone devastated the coast of East Pakistan in 1970, killing an estimated 500,000 people, and the central government was criticized for its poor response. After the December 1970 elections, calls for the independence of East Bengal became louder; the Bengali-nationalist Awami League won 167 of 169 East Pakistani seats in the National Assembly. The League claimed the right to form a government and develop a new constitution, but was strongly opposed by the Pakistani military and the Pakistan Peoples Party (led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto).
The Bengali population was angered when Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was prevented from taking the office. Civil disobedience erupted across East Pakistan, with calls for independence. Mujib addressed a pro-independence rally of nearly 2 million people in Dacca on 7 March 1971, where he said, “This time the struggle is for our freedom. This time the struggle is for our independence.” The flag of Bangladesh was raised for the first time on 23 March, Pakistan’s Republic Day. During the night of 25 March, the Pakistani military junta led by Yahya Khan launched Operation Searchlight (a sustained military assault on East Pakistan). Pakistan army arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and flew him away to Karachi. Mujib however, before his arrest proclaimed the Independence of Bangladesh on 26 March midnight which led the Bangladesh Liberation War to officially break out within hours. The Pakistan Army continued to massacre Bengali students, intellectuals, politicians, civil servants and military defectors in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, while the Mukti Bahini and other Bengali guerilla forces created strong resistance throughout the country. During the war, an estimated 300,000 to three million people were killed and several million people took shelter in neighboring India. Global public opinion turned against Pakistan as news of the atrocities spread; the Bangladesh movement was supported by prominent political and cultural figures in the West, including Ted Kennedy, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Victoria Ocampo and André Malraux. The Concert for Bangladesh was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City to raise funds for Bangladeshi refugees. The first major benefit concert in history, it was organized by Harrison and Indian Bengali sitarist Ravi Shankar.
During the Bangladesh Liberation War, Bengali nationalists declared independence and formed the Mukti Bahini (the Bangladeshi National Liberation Army). The Provisional Government of Bangladesh was established on 17 April 1971, converting the 469 elected members of the Pakistani national assembly and East Pakistani provincial assembly into the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh. The provisional government issued the Proclamation of the Independence of Bangladeshi, which was the country’s interim constitution and declared “equality, human dignity and social justice” as its fundamental principles. Due to Mujib’s detention, the acting president was Syed Nazrul Islam, while Tajuddin Ahmad was Bangladesh’s first prime minister. The military wing of the provisional government was the Bangladesh Forces that included Mukti Bahini and other Bengali guerilla forces. Led by General M. A. G. Osmani and eleven sector commanders, the forces strongly held the countryside during the war and conducted wide-ranging guerrilla operations against Pakistani forces. As a result, almost entire country except capital Dacca was liberated by Bangladesh Forces by late November. This led Pakistan Army to attack neighboring India’s western front on 2 December. India retaliated both in western and eastern fronts. By joint Bangladeshi ground advance and Indian air strike, the rest capital Dacca was liberated from Pakistani occupation in mid December. During the last phase of the war, the Soviet Union and the United States dispatched naval forces to the Bay of Bengal in a Cold War standoff. The nine-months long war ended with the surrender of Pakistani armed forces to the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces on 16 December 1971. Under international pressure, Pakistan released Rahman from imprisonment on 8 January 1972 and he was flown by the British Royal Air Force of to a million-strong homecoming in Dacca. Remaining Indian troops were withdrawn by 12 March 1972, three months after the war ended.
The cause of Bangladeshi self-determination was recognized around the world. By August 1972, the new state was recognized by 86 countries. Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in 1974 after pressure from most of the Muslim countries.