Friendly policy targets world
BANGLADESH is one of the world's newest states. It has also been one of the most recent to adopt a democratic system of government.
Today, Bangladesh will celebrate only its 22nd year as an independent country. The date is important to Bangladeshis because March 26, 1971, marked the start of their struggle for independence from Pakistan.
The war with Pakistan ended with victory for Bangladesh nine months later. Since then, December 16 has been celebrated as Victory Day and March 26 as National and Independence Day.
Under the current prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh replaced presidential rule with a parliamentary system of government in 1991.
Known as the Jatiya Sangsad, the Bangladeshi parliament is dominated by the governing Bangladesh Nationalist Party which campaigned for the introduction of democracy.
Abroad, the Government claims to pursue a policy of ''friendship to all and malice towards none''.
To put its foreign policy aims into effect, Bangladesh has joined the United Nations (UN), the Non-Align Movement, Organisation of Islamic Countries and the Commonwealth.
The former president of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman, pioneered the concept of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC).
The seven-nation forum of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, works collectively for the mutual benefit of its members in a number of areas.
Bangladesh's efforts in the world arena have been rewarded with its election to a number of prestigious international organisations, including the Security Council at the United Nations, chairmanship of the Group of 77, the UNICEF Executive Board and presidency of the UN Assembly.
At home, the Government rules over a nation of 109.9 million people. About 85 per cent of Bangladeshis live in villages and semi-urban areas.
Muslims make up 86.5 per cent of the population, Hindus 12.2 per cent, Buddhists 0.6 per cent, Christians 0.4 per cent, and the rest belong to other faiths.
In addition, there are 1.2 million tribal people.
Islam became the predominant religion in Bangladesh during the 500-year rule of the country by Muslim invaders.
From 1757 to 1947, the country was under British rule. When the Indian sub-continent was partitioned in 1947, Bangladesh became known as East Pakistan, being governed with West Pakistan as one state until independence in 1971.
As a result of the different cultural influences which have spread through Bangladesh, a wide variety of festivals are celebrated in the country, including Christmas and the Hindu event, Durga Puja, and the Buddhist festival, Buddha Purnima.
Two-thirds of Bangladeshis work in agriculture, which accounts for half of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and three-quarters of its export earnings.
Raw jute and jute products make up most of the country's agricultural exports, which also include tea.
In addition to jute, the principal crop in Bangladesh is rice.
Other important crops include sugar cane, potato, pulse, tea and tobacco.
Wheat and cotton production are also on the increase.
Jute, sugar and cotton are some of the local agricultural products used in a number of Bangladesh's growing industries.
Bangladesh also imports raw materials to manufacture textiles, fertiliser, paper, newsprint, rayon, chemicals, cement and tannery products.
Other raw materials in Bangladesh include reserves of gas and coal.
The country has a liberal market economy in which foreign financial institutions are allowed to compete with local banks and insurance companies.
And the Government recently set up a Securities and Exchange Commission to develop the securities market.
Bangladesh earns much of its foreign exchange from tourism.
Some of the best-known tourist attractions in the country include Srimangal, the tea capital, and Paharpur for its archaeological attractions.