Past and future lies in the land

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 March, 1993, 12:00am

BANGLADESH, long known as East Bengal, shares much of the history of the Indian subcontinent.

Muslim conquerors arrived in the 12th century and British rule began in the 18th century with the coming of the British East India Company.

In 1947, it achieved independence from Britain as an eastern province of Pakistan.

In 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League won control of the Pakistani legislature in the elections.

He vowed to end West Pakistan's domination over the more populous east.

In 1971, civil war broke out between the west and east of Pakistan.

Bangladesh declared independence after the war.

The official language in Bangladesh is Bangla (Bengali), although English is common.

The country, which covers an area of 148,000 square kilometres, has a population of about 1O8 million people.

Muslims make up about 86.5 per cent of the population and Hindus about 12.2 per cent.

About 2.4 million people live in the country's capital, Dhaka, and about 1.2 million tribal people live mainly in the hilly areas.

The country is served by 2,818 kilometres of railroad, 10,407 km of paved road and 8,433 km of perennial and seasonal waterways, which provide the cheapest mode of transport.

Dhaka is connected by the national flag carrier Biman, with 30 international destinations in Asia, Africa and Europe and all major towns within the country.

The two sea ports of Bangladesh are Chittagong and Mongla.

Bangladesh possesses fertile soils and the economy of the country is predominantly agrarian.

Agriculture accounts for about 37 per cent of the gross domestic product, 75 per cent of employment and more than 60 per cent of the export earnings - mainly from raw jute and jute products. Bangladesh is the world's largest producer of jute.

Major agricultural products are rice, potato, pulses, sugar-cane and tobacco. The total gross cropped area of the country is 15 million hectares.

Rice is the most important crop, accounting for 72 per cent of the cropped area. Jute accounts for four per cent, wheat four per cent and the remaining 20 per cent of the cropped area grows pulses, oil seeds, sugar-cane, tea and vegetables.

The country produces about 50 million kilograms of tea annually, a sizeable quantity of which is exported.

Bangladesh has a considerable number of large industries based on both indigenous and imported raw materials.

Among them are jute, cotton, textiles, paper, newsprint, sugar, cement, fertiliser, chemical and tannery industries.

Major imports are machinery, wheat, medicines, petroleum, soyabean oil, transport equipment and rice. Main exports are textiles, jute, tea, leather, fish and clothing.

Other notable industries are engineering, ship-building, iron and steel, re-rolling mills, oil refining, paints and the manufacture of electric cable and wires, electric lamps, fluorescent tubes, electronic goods, safety matches and cigarettes.

Among the cottage industries, handlooms and carpet weaving are most important.