Empires - Nation states

In 1947 British India was partitioned to form two new independent states. India was formed from the mainly Hindu areas of the former British colony, and Pakistan from the Muslim areas.

Pakistan was divided into East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (present-day Pakistan). The two parts were separated by 1,600 km of Indian territory. The partition of India in August 1947 had been hurriedly decided, and its implementation plunged the subcontinent into chaos. Millions were killed in population exchanges on a scale never seen before. Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir, and a lingering uneasy peace exists between the two states that has never really stabilised, perhaps because of the many unresolved issues left over from the process of partition.

Crisis in East Pakistan

India addressed the difficult issues of nationhood through a reorganisation of states from 1956 onwards, based largely on linguistic and ethnic composition. It also created a federal and democratic constitution, Pakistan could not conduct a similar internal reorganisation.

From the moment of its creation Pakistan was in crisis. The intellectual and political architect of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, died in 1948, and its first prime minister was assassinated in 1951. Thereafter Pakistan was dominated largely by the military, drawn mainly from the province of Punjab, and by business interests, also based mainly in Punjab. There were problems from the beginning of the governance of the largely Bengali-speaking East Pakistan. With the collapse of democratic institutions, East Pakistanis felt unrepresented.

This process entailed further army repression, and when elections were finally held in 1970, the Awami League, an East Bengal nationalist party, won an absolute majority in united Pakistan's National Assembly. These results were unacceptable to the army. An army crack-down led to civil war which concluded with Bangladesh declaring independence, following the intervention of the Indian army in December 1971, and the defeat of Pakistani troops.

From one empire to three countries

Today, the three nations of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have made huge strides since their tension ridden beginnings towards friendship, cooperation and problem-solving.

Pakistan, watered by the Indus, is of diverse geography and peoples, comprising the provinces of Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan, the North West Frontier Province, and the Northern Territories. The official language is Urdu. Punjabi, Sindhi and Pashtu are other important languages. The topography ranges from the high snowy peaks, glaciers, lakes and valleys of the north to the fertile flood plain of the Indus, and the harsh mountainous terrain of the north-west.

Most of Bangladesh is a vast delta crossed by numerous rivers, its climate is monsoonal and humid. Its coastal areas are vulnerable to cyclonic storms. Most of its population is Bengali, but the Santal, Khasi, Garo and Hajong peoples live in the north and the Chakma and Mogh peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Although Bangladesh is predominantly Muslim, there are large numbers of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians as well as practitioners of traditional religions among its minority peoples.

A vast country of great climatic and geographic diversity, India is divided into 26 states and seven union territories. Though the majority of the population is Hindu, it is a secular state. It has a large Muslim minority of over 100 million, and other religious groups include Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians. Its linguistic variety is also great with 18 official languages including English besides hundreds of dialects being recognised.