Dhaka: It was 50 years ago on the night of 25 March, 1971, that Pakistan’s military launched a violent crackdown on the city of Dhaka, then part of East Pakistan, to quell a rising nationalist movement seeking independence for what is today known as Bangladesh.

Soldiers stormed the dormitories of students and teachers at Dhaka University, dragging them out and blindfolding them before killing them. Elsewhere in the city, soldiers attacked a police barracks and shot civilians on the streets.

Just hours later amid the violence and chaos — early on 26 March — the Bengali nationalist politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence for Bangladesh, sparking a nine-month war.

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In this 7 March, 1971, file photo, East Pakistan's Awami League party leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addresses a mass gathering beneath the flag proposed for a new country. At the time this photo was taken, the government in the Bengali-speaking Eastern province of Pakistan was running on an informal basis under Rahman's leadership. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 8 April, 1971, file photo, Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Bengali Liberation Army troops chant 'Joy Bangla' slogans in Kushtia, East Pakistan, 8 April, 1971. Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of independence this year. (AP Photo/Michel Laurent, File)

The fight for independence can be traced back to Britain’s colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent and the new nations that were carved out after its end in 1947. There was India and Pakistan, the latter split into West Pakistan and East Pakistan.

While most in West Pakistan and East Pakistan shared a common religion — Islam — there were key differences, including language, with Bengali being widely spoken in East Pakistan and Urdu in West Pakistan. That became a point of tension in East Pakistan as the West’s Urdu-speaking elite rose to power.

For years, hostilities and strikes dominated East Pakistan as calls for independence grew louder. A watershed moment occurred in 1970, when Rahman’s Awami League swept the polls in a national election. The military rejected the results, leading to a civil disobedience movement and more calls for independence.

The military responded with Operation Searchlight, the crackdown launched that March night in 1971. The war would rage until December, when India joined on the side of Bangladesh. Finally on 16 December, 1971, Pakistan forces surrendered and Bangladesh celebrated its freedom.

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In this 2 April, 1971, file photo, armed East Pakistan fighters head for the battle front by pedicab, in Jessore, East Pakistan. The town, near the border with India, was the scene of fierce fighting between East Pakistan followers of Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Pakistan Army forces. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 19 April, 1971, file photo, an East Pakistan refugee group seeking safety in India leaves Meherpur, East Pakistan. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 2 April, 1971, file photo, troops of the Bangladesh Freedom Army, followers of East Pakistan's Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, march off to war against Pakistan Army troops, near Jessore, East Pakistan. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 11 April, 1971, file photo, a bus fully laden with Bengali refugees prepares to leave as more of them wait for transport in a suburb of Dhaka. (AP Photo/Michel Laurent, File)

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In this 9 April, 1971, file photo, people of Pangsa village, East Pakistan chant 'Joy Bangla' slogans to express support for Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his Liberation Fighters. (AP Photo/Michel Laurent, File)

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In this 7 December, 1971, file photo, the Indian army’s forward artillery observers direct fire in East Pakistan. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 18 December, 1971, file photo, soldiers of the Mukti Bahini, the military arm of Bangladesh, standing, and three among four men who were to be executed, sitting, raise their palms in Islamic prayer in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (AP Photo/Horst Faas, File)

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In this 18 December, 1971, file photo, Bangladeshi guerrillas beat a victim as they torture and execute four men suspected of collaborating with Pakistani militiamen accused of murder, rape and looting during months of civil war in Dhaka. (AP Photo/Horst Faas, Michel Laurent, File)

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In this 22 December, 1971, file photo, Urdu-speaking Biharis who came to East Pakistan from India’s Bihar state during and after the partition in 1947 sit at the Mohammadpur refugee camp in Dhaka. (AP Photo/Laurent, File)

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In this 14 December, 1971, file photo, East Pakistani villagers cheer at an advancing Indian army tank, manufactured by the Russians, as it moves towards Bogra, East Pakistan. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 18 December, 1971, file photo, Bangladeshi guerrillas beat a victim as they torture and execute four men suspected of collaborating with Pakistani militiamen accused of murder, rape and looting during months of civil war in Dhaka. (AP Photo/Horst Faas, Michel Laurent, File)

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In this 8 December, 1971, file photo, Indian troops stand guard at a road crossing to Dhaka after capturing Jessore town, East Pakistan. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 11 December, 1971, file photo, a Mukti Bahini soldier, left, tries to keep the crowd under control as they cheer the acting Bangladesh president and the acting government during a public meeting in Jessore, East Pakistan. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 12 December, 1971, file photo, a group of evacuees stands beside as a British transport plane arrives at an airstrip to evacuate foreigners from the East Pakistani capital in Dhaka. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 6 February, 1972, file photo, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, right, welcomes Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, left, as he arrives on a two-day visit to India at the Calcutta airport. (AP Photo, File)

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In this 11 January, 1972, file photo, Bengali nationalist leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman walks towards a battery of microphones to address an estimated one million people at a rally in Dhaka's Race Course Ground. (AP Photo/Michel Laurent, File)