War and peace, riches and ruins, the history of Bangladesh is one of extremes. Mighty empires have risen and fallen. Invaders have swept through the country over and over again. Traders brought riches and customs from far away cultures. Troops from this region drove Alexander the Great away from India in 325 BC.
Over the centuries, waves of migration crossed Asia bringing Buddhists and Hindus to the area. They in turn were overwhelmed by the Muslim Mogul dynasty. In the 16th century they formed a province within India's Mogul Empire. By that time the colonial powers of Portuguese, Dutch, French and British traders from Europe were also reaching the area.
When the British gave up India in 1947, they divided it along religious lines, creating the mainly Muslim states of East and West Pakistan on either side of India's territory. The border between India and East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh, ran through the region of Bengal. East Bengal became East Pakistan. West Bengal remained in India. This divided new country was governed by West Pakistan.
East Pakistanis felt that they suffered economically under the new arrangement and that they had little in common with West Pakistanis. The languages were different. The East spoke Bangla while the West spoke Urdu. West Pakistan also wanted to make Urdu the official language. This was the spark that ignited the fires of nationalism in the eastern state.
Bangladesh declared its independence and civil war broke out in March 1971. The war was short, but bloody. As many as three million people died in nine months of fighting. By November the Pakistani army was in control of most of East Pakistan. Then India joined the conflict because it was having its own disputes with Pakistan over borders. Pakistan surrendered its eastern part that December and Bangladesh was born. The shattered nation began to rebuild.
Famine wracked Bangladesh in 1974 after floods devastated crops. A series of political crises and military interventions marked the next two decades, as Bangladesh struggled to find stability. Floods crippled the country again in September 1988, leaving an estimated 30 million people homeless. In 1996, the Awami League, the original nationalist party, was elected in a coalition government.