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History of Afghanistan

see also: Afghanistan timeline

Afghanistan's history, internal political development, foreign relations, and very existence as an independent state have largely been determined by its geographic location at the crossroads of Central, West, and South Asia. Over the centuries, waves of migrating peoples passed through the region--described by historian Arnold Toynbee as a "roundabout of the ancient world"--leaving behind a mosaic of ethnic and linguistic groups. In modern times, as well as in antiquity, vast armies of the world passed through Afghanistan, temporarily establishing local control and often dominating Iran and northern India.

Although it was the scene of great empires and flourishing trade for over two millennia, the area's heterogeneous groups were not bound into a single political entity until the reign of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who in 1747 founded the monarchy that ruled the country until 1973. In the nineteenth century, Afghanistan lay between the expanding might of the Russian and British empires. In 1900, Abdur Rahman Khan (the "Iron Amir"), looking back on his twenty years of rule and the events of the past century, wondered how his country, which stood "like a goat between these lions [Britain and Tsarist Russia] or a grain of wheat between two strong millstones of the grinding mill, [could] stand in the midway of the stones without being ground to dust?" Constrained by the competing dictates of powerful British and Russian empires, Abdur Rahman focused instead on consolidating his power within Afghanistan and creating the institutions of a modern nation-state.

Islam played a key role in the formation of Afghan history as well. Despite the Mongol invasion of Afghanistan in the early thirteenth century which has been described as resembling "more some brute cataclysm of the blind forces of nature than a phenomenon of human history," even a warrior as formidable as Genghis Khan did not uproot Islamic civilization, and within two generations his heirs had become Muslims. An often unacknowledged event that nevertheless played an important role in Afghan history (and in the politics of Afghanistan's neighbors and the entire region up to the present) was the rise in the tenth century of a strong Sunni dynasty--the Ghaznavids. Their power prevented the eastward spread of Shiism[?] from Iran, thereby insuring that the majority of the Muslims in Afghanistan and South Asia would be Sunnis.

Table of contents

Early history

From prehistory until the arrival of Islam around 651. Achaemenid Empire[?], Zoroastrianism, Alexander the Great and the Seleucid Empire, Mauryan Empire[?] and Buddhism, Greek Bactria, Parthians and Sakas[?], Kushan Empire[?], Sassanian Empire[?], Guptas[?], Hepthalites[?], Western Turks[?].

From the arrival of Islam until the Durrani

651-1747. Arab invasian, Abbasid Dynasty[?], Sunni Islam, Samanid Dynasty[?], Ghaznavid Empire[?], Kingdom of Ghor[?], Khwarazm Turks[?], Gengis Khan, Timur, Timurid Empire[?], Babur, Mughal Empire, Safavids, Pashtun tribes, Nadir Shah.

From Ahmad Shah until Dost Mohammed

1746-1826. Rule of Ahmad Shah (Durr-i-Durrani) and his sons and grandsons. Ahmad Shah created an empire in Afghanistan, Sindh and Punjab, defeating the Mughal Empire, but subsequently facing lengthy conflict with the Sikhs and Marathas[?]. The territory he gained was lost during the rule of his son and grandsons who were pushed back to Kabul and Afghanistan descended into tribal conflict and a period of chaos.

Dost Mohammed and the British in Afghanistan

1826-1919. Dost Mohammed Khan[?] gained control in Kabul. The expanding British and Russian empires collided in The Great Game. When Iranians advanced towards Herat with Russian support, Britain invaded Afghanistan in the First Anglo-Afghan War and restored Shah Shuja[?] to the throne. The Afghans fought back and the British attempted to withdraw to Kandahar. Dost Mohammed returned to the throne and fought the Sikhs. The Russians advanced to the Amu Darya in the north and the Iranians captured Herat. Dost Mohammed signed a treaty with the British and allowed them to return to Kandahar, then recaptured Herat. After his death Sher Ali[?] obtained control. When a Russian diplomatic mission was sent to Kabul, the British demanded that their own mission be received, but Sher Ali refused and the British invaded again, the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The Afghans were forced to cede control of foreign affairs to the British, who placed Abdur Rahman Khan in control. He modernised the country and its borders became formalised through British involvement. Habibullah Khan[?] took control, then Amanullah Khan[?], who initiated the Third Anglo-Afghan War, with Afghanistan regaining full independence in 1919.

Reforms of Amanullah Khan and civil war

1919-1929 During the continued reign of Amanullah Khan[?], ties were established with the Soviet Union, while relations with British India were strained. Amanullah attempted to introduce major social and economic reforms, but various tribes revolted and he was deposed in favour of a short-lived Tajik administration led by Habibullah Khan[?], which in turn was deposed by Pashtun tribes.

Reigns of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah

1929-1973 Mohammed Nadir Shah ascended to the throne in 1929 and began consolidating power and regenerating the country. He reversed the reforms of Amanullah Khan[?] in favour of a more gradual approach to modernisation. He was assassinated in 1933 and his son Mohammed Zahir Shah ascended to the throne. Until 1946 Zahir Shah ruled with the assistance of his uncle Mohammed Hashim[?], who held the post of Prime Minister and continued the policies of Nadir Shah. In 1946 another of Zahir Shah's uncles, Shah Mahmud[?], became Prime Minister. He 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 hostile one towards Pakistan. However dipute with Pakistan led to an economic crisis and he was asked to resign in 1963. From 1963 until 1973 Zahir Shah took a more active role, instituting a new constitution which limited the power of the royal family and religious authorities. However the second elected parliament of 1969 became deadlocked, leading Mohammed Daoud Khan to stage a coup d'état on July 17, 1973 while Zahir was in Italy.

Daoud's Republic of Afghanistan

1973-1978. Mohammed Daoud Khan's return to power was welcomed by many factions. He established a new constitution for a presidential, one party system of government, abolishing the monarchy and repressing dissent. Disillusionment set in when he failed to provide the expected benefits to interest groups. A revolt by communists on April 27, 1978 led to his death a day later

Communist rule in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan

1978-1992. The Afghan communist party took power, with Nur Mohammed Taraki[?] as president. The party was internally divided into Khalq and Parcham factions which fought for control. Opposition groups proliferated and took up armed rebellion. Hafizullah Amin became president in 1979. The Soviet Union invaded on December 25, 1979 and installed Babrak Karmal as president and fought a war of attrition against the mujahedin for ten years. In 1986 Mohammad Najibullah became president. The Soviets withdrew, completed in February 1989 but fighting between government and mujahedin continued. With material help from the Soviets, Najibullah's government survived, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union it was overturned on 18 April 1992 when the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostam took control of Kabul.

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Civil war, the rise of the Taliban, 2001 U.S. Attack on Afghanistan, interim administration.

External Links, sources and further reading

  • Much has been taken from the Library of Congress Country Studies of Afghanistan (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aftoc), whith historical material by Craig Baxter and Richard S. Newell.
  • HISTORY: For Ages, Afghanistan Is Not Easily Conquered, New York Times, 9/18/2001 (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/18/international/asia/18AFGH)
  • Anthony Arnold, Afghanistan's Two-Party Communism
  • Henry S. Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union
  • Louis Dupree, Afghanistan
  • Arnold Charles Fletcher, Afghanistan: Highway of Conquest
  • Vartan Gregorian, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1840-1946
  • Kawun Kakar Hasan, Government and Society in Afghanistan: The Reign of Amin 'Abdal-Rahman Khan
  • W. Kerr Fraser-Tytler, Afghanistan: A Study of Political Developments in Central and Southern Asia
  • Raiz Muhammad Khan, Untying the Afghan Knot: Negotiating the Soviet Withdrawal
  • Richard S. Newell, The Politics of Afghanistan
  • Leon B. Poullada, Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919-1929
  • Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan
  • Barnett Rubin, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System
  • Donald Wilbur, Afghanistan

Reference Much of the material in this article comes from the CIA World Factbook 2000 and the 2003 U.S. Department of State website.



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