Quite a few Bengalis don't know their history, so I guess this is an opportunity to briefly talk about it.
Present day Bangladesh was originally part of the Indian state of Bengal. In 1947, during the partition of India, Pakistan was formed. Pakistan was made up of two parts, West Pakistan (now just Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
A few events led to East Pakistan splitting away from West Pakistan, to become an independent Bangladesh:
- In 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, declared in Dhaka that Urdu should be the only language spoken in all of Pakistan. This proved unpopular with Bengali East Pakistanis. on the 21st of February, 1952, several students and civilians who protested against Urdu being the only language in Pakistan were killed in a police crackdown. In memory of those killed in the crackdown, UNESCO declared the 21st of February, as International Mother Language Day
East Pakistan had a slightly higher population than West Pakistan, however, West Pakistan had political dominance, and got more money from the common budget. More money was being spent on West Pakistan, than on East Pakistan, despite East Pakistan's larger population.
- On the 12th of November, in 1970, the Bhola cyclone struck East Pakistan, and an estimated 300,000-500,000 people died; the exact death toll is not known. The West Pakistani dominated government was slow to respond to the disaster effectively; In a statement, President Khan said that his government had made "slips" and "mistakes" in the handling of the disaster. Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani addressed a crowd of 50,000 people on the 24th of November, and accused the president of inefficiency, and demanded that he should resign.
-In 1970, during the Pakistani national elections, the East Pakistani Bengali party, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won the elections in a landslide victiory, winning 160 seats, whereas the West Pakistani party, the PPP, led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (the father of Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2008), only won 80 seats. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused to allow Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to become the leader of Pakistan, despite democratically winning the elections. This led to outrage throughout East Pakistan, and Bengalis were demanding that East Pakistan should split away from West Pakistan, and thus the Bengali nationalist movement began.
-On the 25th of March, 1971, the West Pakistani army launched 'Operation Searchlight' in East Pakistan to stop the Bengali nationalist movement. The operation led to indiscriminate killings of East Pakistani Bengali civilians, the systematic killings only enraged Bengalis. Many Bengali students, professors and intellectuals were murdered by the West Pakistani army.
On the 26th of March, 1971, East Pakistan declared itself as an independent Bangladesh (West Pakistan didn't recognise the independence until after the Pakistani army surrendered). Ironically Pakistan's 'Operation Searchlight' didn't stop the Bengali nationalist movement in East Pakistan, but was viewed as the final straw by Bengalis, and led to East Pakistan declaring its independence.
After East Pakistan declared independence, the Mukti Bahini, or the 'Liberation Army', was formed to resist against the Pakistani army. The Mukti Bahini's resistance against the Pakistani army was initially disorganised and spontaneous, however, as the Pakistani army increasingly cracked down on the East Pakistani population, the Mukti Bahini became more organised, active and effective, and more Bengali soldiers in the Pakistani army defected and joined the underground 'Bangladesh Army'. The Bengali units in the 'Bangladesh Army' slowly merged to join with the Mukti Bahini, and increased the military supplies from India. In response to this, the Pakistani army raised a paramilitary force known as the 'Razakars'(volunteers). The Razakar forces were mainly made up of Bengali Islamic fundamentalists and Urdu speaking Bihari migrants who wanted East Pakistan to remain with West Pakistan as an Islamic republic, rather than becoming an independent secular nation.
On the 3rd of December, 1971, Pakistan struck Indian airfields with 50 aircraft, taking inspiration from Israel's air strikes in the 6 day war. However, only 1 Indian aircraft was destroyed during the strike. Later, on the evening of the air strike, the Indian PM, Indira Gandhi, called the air strikes an act of war against India, hence India entered the war.
On the 16th of December, with the assistance of India, 90,000 Pakistani troops were taken as prisoners of war in Bangladesh. 77,676 out of the 90,000 were uniformed Pakistani personnel, and the rest were either family members of the personnel, or fundamentalist Bengali fighters who joined forces with the Pakistani army.
The exact number of Bengali civilians killed is disputed, and the statistics vary vastly. The number is as high as 3,000,000, and is as low as 26,000. Naturally the Bangladeshi authorities would want the figure to be as high as possible, and naturally the Pakistani army would want the figure to be as low as possible
(I'll do a more detailed version of all of this soon)