As Bangladesh marks the 50th anniversary of its declaration of independence from Pakistan, there is widespread admiration for its remarkably successful economic and social transformation. Less noted are the profound geopolitical consequences of Bangladesh’s economic rise, including a shift in South Asia’s center of economic gravity to the east and the reintegration of an eastern subcontinent that was once divided by animosities and barely penetrable borders. Today, Bangladesh is on the cusp of a second liberation—one that would end its relative isolation and allow Dhaka to play a stronger role in the region and beyond, seeking new maritime possibilities in the Indo-Pacific.

As it stepped out into the world in 1971 amid a bloody independence war with Pakistan, few in the world gave it a chance to survive, let alone thrive. For decades, it was one of the…

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