Though the modern state of Afghanistan was founded or created in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, the land has an ancient history and various timelines of different civilizations. Excavation of prehistoric sites by Louis Dupree, the University of Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Institution and others suggests that humans were living in what is now Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago, and that farming communities of the area were among the earliest in the world.
Afghanistan is a country at a unique nexus point where numerous Indo-European civilizations have interacted and often fought, and it was an important site of early historical activity. Through the ages, the region has been home to various people, among them the Aryan (Indo-Iranian) tribes, such as the Bactrians, Arians, Arachosians, etc. It also has been conquered by a host of people, including the Median and Persian Empires, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, Turks, and Mongols. In recent times, military operations from the British, Soviets, and most recently by the United States and their allies have taken place. On the other hand, native entities have invaded surrounding regions in Iranian plateau, Central Asia and Indian subcontinent to form empires of their own.
In 2000 BC, Indo-European-speaking Aryans are thought to have been in the region of Afghanistan. It is unlikely that the Aryans themselves originated in Afghanistan although they did migrate from there south towards India and west towards Persia, but they also migrated into Europe via north of the Caspian. These Aryans set up a nation which became known as Airyānem Vāejah. Original homelands of the Aryans have been proposed as Anatolia, Kurdistan, Central Asia, Iran, or Northern India, with the directions of the historical migration varying accordingly. Later, during the rule of Ashkanian, Sasanian and after, it was called Erānshahr (Persian: ايرانشهر – Īrānšahr) meaning “Dominion of the Aryans”.
It has been speculated that Zoroastrianism might have originated in what is now Afghanistan between 1800 to 800 BC, as Zoroaster lived and died in Balkh. Ancient Eastern Iranian languages, such as Avestan, may have been spoken in this region around the time of the rise of Zoroastrianism. By the middle of the sixth century BC, the Persian Empire of the Achaemenid Persians overthrew the Median Empire and incorporated Afghanistan (known as Arachosia to the Greeks) within its boundaries. Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan after 330 BCE. Following Alexander's brief occupation, the successor state of the Seleucid Empire controlled the area until 305 BCE, when they gave most of the area to the Hindu Mauryan Empire as part of an alliance treaty. During Mauryan rule, Hinduism and Buddhism became the dominant religions in the region. The Mauryans were overthrown by the Sunga Dynasty in 185 BCE, leading to the Hellenistic reconquest of Afghanistan by the Greco-Bactrians by 180 BCE. Much of Afghanistan soon broke away from the Greco-Bactrians and became part of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. The Indo-Greeks were defeated by the Indo-Scythians and expelled from most of Afghanistan by the end of the 2nd century BCE.
During the first century, the Parthian Empire subjugated Afghanistan, but lost it to their Indo-Parthian vassals. In the mid to late 1st century AD the vast Kushan Empire, centered in modern Afghanistan, became great patrons of Buddhist culture. The Kushans were defeated by the Sassanids in the third century. Although various rulers calling themselves Kushanshas (generally known as Indo-Sassanids) continued to rule at least parts of the region, they were probably more or less subject to the Sassanids. The late Kushans were followed by the Kidarite Huns who, in turn, were replaced by the short-lived but powerful Hephthalites, as rulers of the region in the first half of the fifth century. The Hephthalites were defeated by the Sasanian king Khosrau I in AD 557, who re-established Sassanid power in Persia. However, the successors of Kushans and Hepthalites established a small dynasty in Kabulistan called Kushano-Hephthalites or Kabul-Shahan/Shahi, who were later defeated by the Muslim Arab armies and finally conquered by Muslim Turkish armies led by the Ghaznavids.
Islamic and Mongol conquests of the region
In the Middle Ages, up to the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was part of a larger region known as Greater Khorasan. Several important centers of Khorāsān are thus located in modern Afghanistan, such as Balkh, Herat, Ghazni and Kabul. It was during this period of time when Islam was introduced and spread in the area.
The region of Afghanistan became the center of various important empires, including that of the Shahis, Samanids (875–999), Ghaznavids (977–1187), Seljukids (1037–1194), Ghurids (1149–1212), Mongol Empire, Ilkhanate (1225–1335), and Timurids (1370–1506). Among them, the periods of the Ghaznavids and Timurids are considered as some of the most brilliant eras of the region's history.
In 1219 the region was overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, who devastated the land, including, for example, exterminating every human being in the ancient cities of Herat and Balkh. The destruction caused by the Mongols depopulated major cities and caused much of the population to revert to an agrarian rural society. Their rule continued with the Ilkhanate [one of four Subordinate Mongolian Khanates], and was extended further following the invasion of Timur Lang (“Tamerlane”), a ruler from Central Asia. In 1504, Babur, a descendant of both Timur Lang and Genghis Khan, established the Mughal Empire with its capital at Kabul. By the early 1700s, Afghanistan was controlled by several ruling groups: Uzbeks to the north, Safavids to the west and the remaining larger area by the Mughals or self-ruled by local tribes.
In 1709, Mir Wais Hotak, a local Afghan (Pashtun) from the Ghilzai clan, overthrew and killed Gurgin Khan, the Safavid governor of Kandahar. Mir Wais successfully defeated the Persians, who were attempting to convert the local population of Kandahar from Sunni to the Shia sect of Islam. Mir Wais held the region of Kandahar until his death in 1715 and was succeeded by his son Mir Mahmud Hotaki. In 1722, Mir Mahmud led an Afghan army to Isfahan (Iran), sacked the city and proclaimed himself King of Persia. However, the great majority still rejected the Afghan regime as usurping, and after the massacre of thousands of civilians in Isfahan by the Afghans – including more than three thousand religious scholars, nobles, and members of the Safavid family – the Hotaki dynasty was eventually removed from power by a new ruler, Nadir Shah of Persia.
Durrani Empire: beginning of the Afghan state
In 1738, Nadir Shah and his army, which included four thousand Pashtuns of the Abdali clan, conquered the region of Kandahar; in the same year he occupied Ghazni, Kabul and Lahore. On June 19, 1747, Nadir Shah was assassinated, possibly planned by his nephew Ali Qoli. Following Nadir's death, one of Nadir's military commanders and personal bodyguard, Ahmad Shah Abdali, a Pashtun from the Abdali clan, called for a loya jirga (a "grand assembly"). The Afghans gathered at Kandahar and chose Ahmad Shah as their new leader, coronating him King in October 1747. Ahmad Shah is often regarded as the founder of modern Afghanistan. After the inauguration, Ahmad Shah changed his title or clans' name to “Durrani”, which derives from the Persian word Durr, meaning “Pearl”.
By 1751, Ahmad Shah Durrani and his Afghan army conquered the entire present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Khorasan and Kohistan provinces of Iran, along with Delhi in India. In October 1772, Ahmad Shah retired to his home in Maruf, Kandahar, where he died peacefully. He was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah Durrani, who transferred the capital from Kandahar to Kabul. Timur died in 1793 and was finally succeeded by his son Zaman Shah Durrani.
European influence and the creation of the state of Afghanistan
During the nineteenth century, following the Anglo-Afghan wars (fought 1839–42, 1878–80, and lastly in 1919) and the ascension of the Barakzai dynasty, Afghanistan saw much of its territory and autonomy ceded to the United Kingdom. The UK exercised a great deal of influence, and it was not until King Amanullah Khan acceded to the throne in 1919 that Afghanistan re-gained complete independence over its foreign affairs (see “The Great Game”). During the period of British intervention in Afghanistan, ethnic Pashtun territories were divided by the Durand Line. This would lead to strained relations between Afghanistan and British India – and later the new state of Pakistan – over what came to be known as the Pashtunistan debate.
The Kingdom of Afghanistan
King Amanullah (1919–1929) moved to end his country's traditional isolation in the years following the Third Anglo-Afghan war. He established diplomatic relations with most major countries and, following a 1927 tour of Europe and Turkey (during which he noted the modernization and secularization advanced by Atatürk), introduced several reforms intended to modernize Afghanistan. A key force behind these reforms was Mahmud Tarzi, Amanullah Khan's Foreign Minister and father-in-law – and an ardent supporter of the education of women. He fought for Article 68 of Afghanistan's first constitution (declared through a Loya Jirga), which made elementary education compulsory. Some of the reforms that were actually put in place, such as the abolition of the traditional Muslim veil for women and the opening of a number of co-educational schools, quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders. Faced with overwhelming armed opposition, Amanullah was forced to abdicate in January 1929 after Kabul fell to forces led by Habibullah Kalakani.
Prince Mohammed Nadir Khan, a cousin of Amanullah's, in turn defeated and killed Habibullah Kalakani in October of the same year, and with considerable Pashtun tribal support he was declared King Nadir Shah. He began consolidating power and regenerating the country. He abandoned the reforms of Amanullah Khan in favour of a more gradual approach to modernisation. In 1933, however, he was assassinated in a revenge killing by a Kabul student.
Mohammad Zahir Shah, Nadir Khan's 19-year-old son, succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. The longest period of stability in Afghanistan was when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. Until 1946 Zahir Shah ruled with the assistance of his uncle, who held the post of Prime Minister and continued the policies of Nadir Shah. In 1946, another of Zahir Shah's uncles, Sardar Shah Mahmud Khan, became Prime Minister and began an experiment allowing greater political freedom, but reversed the policy when it went further than he expected. In 1953, he was replaced as Prime Minister by Mohammed Daoud Khan, the king's cousin and brother-in-law. Daoud sought a closer relationship with the Soviet Union and a more distant one towards Pakistan.
During this period Afghanistan remained neutral. It was not a participant in World War II, nor aligned with either power bloc in the Cold War. However, it was a beneficiary of the latter rivalry as both the Soviet Union and the U.S. vied for influence by building such works as hotels and sewer systems. A good two lane road was constructed from Iran. Running through Herat, Kandahar, and Kabul, it ended at the Pakistani border. By the late 1960s large numbers of travelers were using it as part of the Hippie trail.
Republic of Afghanistan
In 1973, Zahir Shah's brother-in-law, Mohammed Daoud Khan, launched a bloodless coup and became the first President of Afghanistan while Zahir Shah was on an official overseas visit. Mohammed Daoud Khan jammed Afghan radio with anti-Pakistani broadcasts and looked to the Soviet Union and the United States for aid for development.
In 1978 a prominent member of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Mir Akbar Khyber (or “Kaibar”), was killed by the government. The leaders of PDPA apparently feared that Daoud was planning to exterminate them all, especially since most of them were arrested by the government shortly after. Hafizullah Amin and a number of military wing officers of the PDPA managed to remain at large and organised an uprising.
The PDPA, led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal and Amin overthrew the regime of Mohammad Daoud, who was killed along with his family. The uprising was known as the Khalq, or Great Saur Revolution ('Saur' means 'April' in Pashto). On May 1, 1978, Taraki became President, Prime Minister and General Secretary of the PDPA. The country was then renamed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), and the PDPA regime lasted, in some form or another, until April 1992.
The 1978 Khalq uprising against the government of Daoud Khan was essentially a resurgence by the Ghilzai tribe of the Pashtun against the Durrani (the tribe of Daoud Khan and the previous monarchy).
Once in power, the PDPA moved to permit freedom of religion and carried out an ambitious land reform, waiving farmers' debts countrywide. They also made a number of statements on women’s rights and introduced women to political life. A prominent example was Anahita Ratebzad, who was a major Marxist leader and a member of the Revolutionary Council. Ratebzad wrote the famous May 28, 1978 New Kabul Times editorial which declared: “Privileges which women, by right, must have are equal education, job security, health services, and free time to rear a healthy generation for building the future of the country ... Educating and enlightening women is now the subject of close government attention.”
Many people in the cities including Kabul either welcomed or were ambivalent to these policies. However, the secular nature of the government made it unpopular with religiously conservative Afghans in the villages and the countryside, who favoured traditionalist 'Islamic' law.
The U.S. saw the situation as a prime opportunity to weaken the Soviet Union. As part of a Cold War strategy, in 1979 the United States government (under President Jimmy Carter) began to covertly fund forces ranged against the pro-Soviet government, although warned that this might prompt a Soviet intervention, (according to National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski). The Mujahideen belonged to various different factions, but all shared, to varying degrees, a similarly conservative 'Islamic' ideology.
In March 1979 Hafizullah Amin took over as prime minister, retaining the position of field marshal and becoming vice-president of the Supreme Defence Council. Taraki remained President and in control of the Army. On September 14, Amin overthrew Taraki, who died or was killed. Amin's tenure as prime minister lasted only a few months.
Soviet invasion and civil war
In order to bolster the Parcham faction, the Soviet Union—citing the 1978 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborliness that had been signed between the two countries—intervened on December 24, 1979. Over 100,000 Soviet troops took part in the invasion backed by another one hundred thousand and by members of the Parcham faction. Amin was killed and replaced by Babrak Karmal.
In response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and part of its overall Cold War strategy, the United States responded by arming and otherwise supporting the Afghan mujahideen, which had taken up arms against the Soviet occupiers. U.S. support began during the Carter administration, but increased substantially during the Reagan administration, in which it became a centerpiece of the so-called Reagan Doctrine under which the U.S. provided support to anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistan and also in Angola, Nicaragua, and other nations. In addition to U.S. support, the mujahideen received support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other nations.
The Soviet occupation resulted in the killings of between six hundred thousand and 2 million Afghan civilians. Over 5 million Afghans fled their country to Pakistan, Iran and other parts of the world. Faced with mounting international pressure and great number of casualties on both sides, the Soviets withdrew in 1989.
The Soviet withdrawal from the DRA was seen as an ideological victory in the U.S., which had backed the Mujahideen through three U.S. presidential administrations in order to counter Soviet influence in the vicinity of the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
Following the removal of the Soviet forces, the U.S. and its allies lost interest in Afghanistan and did little to help rebuild the war-ravaged country or influence events there. The USSR continued to support President Mohammad Najibullah (former head of the Afghan secret service, KHAD) until 1992 when the new Russian government refused to sell oil products to the Najibullah regime.
Because of the fighting, a number of elites and intellectuals fled to take refuge abroad. This led to a leadership imbalance in Afghanistan. Fighting continued among the victorious Mujahideen factions, which gave rise to a state of warlordism. The most serious fighting during this period occurred in 1994, when over 10,000 people were killed in Kabul alone. It was at this time that the Taliban developed as a politico-religious force, eventually seizing Kabul in 1996 and establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. By the end of 2000 the Taliban had captured 95% of the country.
During the Taliban's seven-year rule, much of the population experienced restrictions on their freedom and violations of their human rights. Women were banned from jobs, girls forbidden to attend schools or universities. Communists were systematically eradicated and thieves were punished by amputating one of their hands or feet. Opium production was nearly wiped out by the Taliban by 2001.
War in Afghanistan 2001–present
Following the September 11 attacks the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a military campaign to destroy the Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan. The U.S. military also threatened to overthrow the Taliban government for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden and several Al-Qaeda members. The U.S. made a common cause with the former Afghan Mujahideen to achieve its ends, including the Northern Alliance, a militia still recognized by the United Nations as the Afghan government.
In late 2001, the United States sent teams of CIA Paramilitary Officers from their Special Activities Division and U.S. Army Special Forces to invade Afghanistan to aid anti-Taliban militias, backed by U.S. air strikes against Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets, culminating in the seizure of Kabul by the Northern Alliance and the overthrow of the Taliban, with many local warlords switching allegiance from the Taliban to the Northern Alliance.
In December 2001, leaders of the former Afghan mujahideen and diaspora met in Germany, and arrived at the Bonn Agreement for the formulation of a new democratic government that resulted in the inauguration of Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun of the Durrani clan (from which the royal family was drawn) from the southern city of Kandahar, as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority.
After a nationwide Loya Jirga (Council of Elders) in 2002, Karzai was chosen by the representatives to assume the title as Interim President of Afghanistan. The country convened a Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003 and a new constitution was ratified in January 2004. An election was held in October 2004, and Hamid Karzai was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Legislative elections were held in September 2005. The National Assembly – the first freely elected legislature in Afghanistan since 1973 – sat in December 2005, and was noteworthy for the inclusion of women as voters, candidates, and elected members.
As the country continues to rebuild and recover, it is still struggling against poverty, poor infrastructure, large concentration of land mines and other unexploded ordnance, as well as a huge illegal poppy cultivation and opium trade. Afghanistan also remains subject to occasionally violent political jockeying. The country continues to grapple with the Taliban insurgency and the threat of attacks from a few remaining elements of Al-Qaeda.
At the start of 2007, reports of the Taliban's increasing presence in Afghanistan led the U.S. to consider longer tours of duty and even an increase in troop numbers. According to a report filed by Robert Burns of Associated Press on January 16, 2007, “U.S. military officials cited new evidence that the Pakistani military, which has long-standing ties to the Taliban movement, has turned a blind eye to the incursions.” Also, “The number of insurgent attacks is up 300 percent since September 2006, when the Pakistani government put into effect a peace arrangement with tribal leaders in the north Waziristan area, along Afghanistan's eastern border," a U.S. military intelligence officer told reporters.
Government and politics
Politics in Afghanistan has historically consisted of power struggles, bloody coups and unstable transfers of power. With the exception of a military junta, the country has been governed by nearly every system of government over the past century, including a monarchy, republic, theocracy and communist state. The constitution ratified by the 2003 Loya jirga restructured the government as an Islamic republic consisting of three branches, executive, legislative and judicial.
Afghanistan is currently led by President Hamid Karzai, who was elected in October 2004. The current parliament was elected in 2005. Among the elected officials were former mujahadeen, Taliban members, communists, reformists, and Islamic fundamentalists. 28% of the delegates elected were women, three points more than the 25% minimum guaranteed under the constitution. This made Afghanistan, long known under the Taliban for its oppression of women, one of the leading countries in terms of female representation. Construction for a new parliament building began on August 29, 2005.
The Supreme Court of Afghanistan is currently led by Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi, a former university professor who had been legal advisor to the president. The previous court, appointed during the time of the interim government, had been dominated by fundamentalist religious figures, including Chief Justice Faisal Ahmad Shinwari. The court issued several rulings, such as banning cable television, seeking to ban a candidate in the 2004 presidential election and limiting the rights of women, as well as overstepping its constitutional authority by issuing rulings on subjects not yet brought before the court. The current court is seen as more moderate and led by more technocrats than the previous court, although it has yet to issue any rulings.
Law enforcement and military
Afghanistan currently has more than 70,000 national police officers, with plans to recruit more so that the total number can reach 80,000. They are being trained by and through the Afghanistan Police Program. Although the police officially are responsible for maintaining civil order, sometimes local and regional military commanders continue to exercise control in the hinterland. Police have been accused of improper treatment and detention of prisoners. In 2003 the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force, now under command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was extended and expanded beyond the Kabul area. However, in some areas unoccupied by those forces, local militias maintain control. In many areas, crimes have gone uninvestigated because of insufficient police and/or communications. Troops of the Afghan National Army have been sent to quell fighting in some regions lacking police protection.
The Afghan National Army currently has 90,000 troops, with plans to increase this number to 260,000 in the next few years. The Afghan Army is not as affected by corruption as the National Police due to international oversight.
Afghanistan is administratively divided into thirty-four (34) provinces (welayats), and for each province there is a capital. Each province is then divided into many provincial districts, and each district normally covers a city or several townships.
The Governor of the province is appointed by the Ministry of Interior, and the Prefects for the districts of the province will be appointed by the provincial Governor. The Governor is the representative of the central government of Afghanistan, and is responsible for all administrative and formal issues. The provincial Chief of Police is appointed by the Ministry of Interior, who works together with the Governor on law enforcement for all the cities or districts of that province.
There is an exception in the capital city (Kabul) where the Mayor is selected by the President of Afghanistan, and is completely independent from the prefecture of Kabul Province.
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Security and crime
Helmand is the most dangerous place in Afghanistan due to its distance from Kabul as well as the drug trade that flourishes there. Other turbulent provinces in Afghanistan include Kandahar and Oruzgan, although security in the latter has improved recently due to Dutch and Afghan counteroffensives. Most of the unstable provinces border Pakistan and are in the south of the country, resulting in questions as to the volume of the flow of insurgents from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
There are also many stable and secure provinces, with low risks of violence and lower crime levels. Faryab, Herat, Farah, Kabul and Badakhshan are some of these. Most of these provinces are in the north of the country.
Afghanistan's government is currently fighting an insurgency with the assistance of the United States and NATO. Therefore, relations between Afghanistan and NATO members is strong. Afghanistan depends a lot on multi-billion dollar aid infusions from the United States. Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany are also large donors.
Relations between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran are very strong. The two nations share the same language and culture, and both countries are part of Greater Persia. Shiites and Sunnis get along well in Afghanistan which causes no religious tensions between the two nations. Iran is a consistent donor towards Afghan reconstruction.
Afghan and Pakistani relations always fluctuate. The two nations are always disputing, but recent relations have deteriorated vastly. Afghan Intelligence and American agencies accuse Pakistan of working to stop Afghan reconstruction mainly through the Inter-Services Intelligence. Most of the Taliban come from Pakistan and Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding in Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan recently fought a series of border skirmishes and the US has led several air strikes in Pakistani territory from Afghan air bases.
Afghanistan maintains excellent relations with their Northern Allies, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as all three share a similar culture as the Afghans. Hazaras are from those nations.
Afghanistan also has good relations with Russia and India. India is a leading investor in Afghanistan, alongside Iran, and the current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai received some of his college education in India.
Afghanistan has excellent relations with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. Afghanistan has no relations with Israel and alongside ally Iran, is a frequent non-Arab critic of Israel. In 2009, thousands of Afghans protested the Israeli invasion of Gaza.