Bangladesh: Two Independence Movements

Author: Ambassador Howard Schaffer served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 36 years, holding posts at embassies in India and Pakistan before serving twice as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. Ambassador Teresita Schaffer is an expert on South Asia and serves as a senior adviser to McLarty Associates, a Washington-based international strategic advisory firm.

Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 shocked the world with its violence and the callousness of U.S. policy, inspired a unique Beatles concert, and became a feature in a major shift in relations among the United States, China, the Soviet Union, and India. But the Bangladesh movement did not arise in a vacuum. Instead, it grew out of the fragmented geographic, ethnic, and power structure left behind from its first independence movement, when the subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947. 

After independence, Bangladesh was expected to be a “basket case.” Relatively successful economically, its political trajectory has been more volatile, albeit more promising than other countries studied for this project. However, many issues that shaped the Bangladesh movement—the second of the country’s two independence movements—still stalk Bangladeshi politics four decades after its bloody creation.

This is a chapter in Independence Movements and Their Aftermath. Please click here for more.