Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, has had a
turbulent history. In 328 BC, Alexander the Great entered the territory
of present-day Afghanistan, then part of the Persian Empire, to capture
Bactria (present-day Balkh). Invasions by the Scythians, White Huns, and
Turks followed in succeeding centuries. In AD 642, Arabs invaded the entire
region and introduced Islam.
Arab rule gave way to the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered
by the Turkic Ghaznavids in 998. Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030) consolidated
the conquests of his predecessors and turned Ghazni into a great cultural
center as well as a base for frequent forays into India. Following Mahmud's
short-lived dynasty, various princes attempted to rule sections of the
country until the Mongol invasion of 1219. The Mongol invasion, led by
Genghis Khan, resulted in massive slaughter of the population, destruction
of many cities, including Herat, Ghazni, and Balkh, and the despoliation
of fertile agricultural areas.
Following Genghis Khan's death in 1227, a succession of petty chiefs
and princes struggled for supremacy until late in the 14th century, when
one of his descendants, Tamerlane, incorporated Afghanistan into his own
vast Asian empire. Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and the founder of
India's Moghul dynasty at the beginning of the 16th century, made Kabul
the capital of an Afghan principality.
In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of what is known today as Afghanistan,
established his rule. A Pashtun, Durrani was elected king by a tribal council
after the assassination of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah at Khabushan in
the same year. Throughout his reign, Durrani consolidated chieftainships,
petty principalities, and fragmented provinces into one country. His rule
extended from Mashad in the west to Kashmir and Delhi in the east, and
from the Amu Darya (Oxus) River in the north to the Arabian Sea in the
south. With the exception of a 9-month period in 1929, all of Afghanistan's
rulers until the 1978 Marxist coup were from Durrani's Pashtun tribal confederation,
and all were members of that tribe's Mohammadzai clan after 1818.
During the 19th century, collision between the expanding British Empire
in the subcontinent and czarist Russia significantly influenced Afghanistan
in what was termed "The Great Game." British concern over Russian advances
in Central Asia and growing influence in Persia culminated in two Anglo-Afghan
wars. The first (1839-42) resulted not only in the destruction of a British
army, but is remembered today as an example of the ferocity of Afghan resistance
to foreign rule. The second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-80) was sparked by Amir
Sher Ali's refusal to accept a British mission in Kabul. This conflict
brought Amir Abdur Rahman to the Afghan throne. During his reign (1880-1901),
the British and Russians officially established the boundaries of what
would become modern Afghanistan. The British retained effective control
over Kabul's foreign affairs.
Afghanistan remained neutral during World War I, despite German encouragement
of anti-British feelings and Afghan rebellion along the borders of British
India. The Afghan king's policy of neutrality was not universally popular
within the country, however.
Habibullah, Abdur Rahman's son and successor, was assassinated in 1919,
possibly by family members opposed to British influence. His third son,
Amanullah, regained control of Afghanistan's foreign policy after launching
the third Anglo-Afghan war with an attack on India in the same year. During
the ensuing conflict, the war-weary British relinquished their control
over Afghan foreign affairs by signing the Treaty of Rawalpindi in August
1919. In commemoration of this event, Afghans celebrate August 19 as their
Reform and Reaction
King Amanullah (1919-29) 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 Ataturk--introduced several reforms intended to modernize Afghanistan.
Some of these, 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 Bacha-i-Saqao, a Tajik brigand. Prince Nadir Khan, a cousin of Amanullah's,
in turn defeated Bacha-i-Saqao in October of the same year and, with considerable
Pashtun tribal support, was declared King Nadir Shah. Four years later,
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. In 1964, King Zahir Shah promulgated
a liberal constitution providing for a two-chamber legislature to which
the king appointed one-third of the deputies. The people elected another
third, and the remainder were selected indirectly by provincial assemblies.
Although Zahir's "experiment in democracy" produced few lasting reforms,
it permitted the growth of unofficial extremist parties on both the left
and the right. These included the communist People's Democratic Party of
Afghanistan (PDPA), which had close ideological ties to the Soviet Union.
In 1967, the PDPA split into two major rival factions: the Khalq (Masses)
faction headed by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin and supported
by elements within the military, and the Parcham (Banner) faction led by
Babrak Karmal. The split reflected ethnic, class, and ideological divisions
within Afghan society.
Zahir's cousin, Sardar Mohammad Daoud, served as his Prime Minister
from 1953 to 1963. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Daoud solicited
military and economic assistance from both Washington and Moscow and introduced
controversial social policies of a reformist nature. Daoud's alleged support
for the creation of a Pashtun state in the Pakistan-Afghan border area
heightened tensions with Pakistan and eventually resulted in Daoud's dismissal
in March 1963.
Daoud's Republic (1973-78) and the April 1978 Coup
Amid charges of corruption and malfeasance against the royal family
and poor economic conditions created by the severe 1971-72 drought, former
Prime Minister Daoud seized power in a military coup on July 17, 1973.
Zahir Shah fled the country, eventually finding refuge in Italy. Daoud
abolished the monarchy, abrogated the 1964 constitution, and declared Afghanistan
a republic with himself as its first President and Prime Minister. His
attempts to carry out badly needed economic and social reforms met with
little success, and the new constitution promulgated in February 1977 failed
to quell chronic political instability.
Seeking to exploit more effectively mounting popular disaffection, the
PDPA reunified with Moscow's support. On April 27, 1978, the PDPA initiated
a bloody coup, which resulted in the overthrow and murder of Daoud and
most of his family. Nur Muhammad Taraki, Secretary General of the PDPA,
became President of the Revolutionary Council and Prime Minister of the
newly established Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
Opposition to the Marxist government emerged almost immediately. During
its first 18 months of rule, the PDPA brutally imposed a Marxist-style
"reform" program, which ran counter to deeply rooted Afghan traditions.
Decrees forcing changes in marriage customs and pushing through an ill-conceived
land reform were particularly misunderstood by virtually all Afghans. In
addition, thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious
establishment, and the intelligentsia were imprisoned, tortured, or murdered.
Conflicts within the PDPA also surfaced early and resulted in exiles, purges,
imprisonments, and executions.
By the summer of 1978, a revolt began in the Nuristan region of eastern
Afghanistan and quickly spread into a countrywide insurgency. In September
1979, Hafizullah Amin, who had earlier been Prime Minister and Minister
of Defense, seized power from Taraki after a palace shootout. Over the
next 2 months, instability plagued Amin's regime as he moved against perceived
enemies in the PDPA. By December, party morale was crumbling, and the insurgency
The Soviet Invasion
The Soviet Union moved quickly to take advantage of the April 1978 coup.
In December 1978, Moscow signed a new bilateral treaty of friendship and
cooperation with Afghanistan, and the Soviet military assistance program
increased significantly. The regime's survival increasingly was dependent
upon Soviet military equipment and advisers as the insurgency spread and
the Afghan army began to collapse.
By October 1979, however, relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet
Union were tense as Hafizullah Amin refused to take Soviet advice on how
to stabilize and consolidate his government. Faced with a deteriorating
security situation, on December 24, 1979, large numbers of Soviet airborne
forces, joining thousands of Soviet troops already on the ground, began
to land in Kabul under the pretext of a field exercise. On December 26,
these invasion forces killed Hafizullah Amin and installed Babrak Karmal,
exiled leader of the Parcham faction, bringing him back from Czechoslovakia
and making him Prime Minister. Massive Soviet ground forces invaded from
the north on December 27.
Following the invasion, the Karmal regime, although backed by an expeditionary
force that grew as large as 120,000 Soviet troops, was unable to establish
authority outside Kabul. As much as 80% of the countryside, including parts
of Herat and Kandahar, eluded effective government control. An overwhelming
majority of Afghans opposed the communist regime, either actively or passively.
Afghan freedom fighters (mujahidin) made it almost impossible for the regime
to maintain a system of local government outside major urban centers. Poorly
armed at first, in 1984 the mujahidin began receiving substantial assistance
in the form of weapons and training from the U.S. and other outside powers.
In May 1985, the seven principal Peshawar-based guerrilla organizations
formed an alliance to coordinate their political and military operations
against the Soviet occupation. Late in 1985, the mujahidin were active
in and around Kabul, launching rocket attacks and conducting operations
against the communist government. The failure of the Soviet Union to win
over a significant number of Afghan collaborators or to rebuild a viable
Afghan army forced it to bear an increasing responsibility for fighting
the resistance and for civilian administration.
Soviet and popular displeasure with the Karmal regime led to its demise
in May 1986. Karmal was replaced by Muhammad Najibullah, former chief of
the Afghan secret police (KHAD). Najibullah had established a reputation
for brutal efficiency during his tenure as KHAD chief. As Prime Minister,
Najibullah was ineffective and highly dependent on Soviet support. Undercut
by deep-seated divisions within the PDPA, regime efforts to broaden its
base of support proved futile.
The Geneva Accords and Their Aftermath
By the mid-1980s, the tenacious Afghan resistance movement--aided by
the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others--was exacting a high
price from the Soviets, both militarily within Afghanistan and by souring
the U.S.S.R.'s relations with much of the Western and Islamic world. Informal
negotiations for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway
since 1982. In 1988, the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with
the United States and Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement
settling the major differences between them. The agreement, known as the
Geneva accords, included five major documents, which, among other things,
called for U.S. and Soviet noninterference in the internal affairs of Pakistan
and Afghanistan, the right of refugees to return to Afghanistan without
fear of persecution or harassment, and, most importantly, a timetable that
ensured full Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. About
14,500 Soviet and an estimated one million Afghan lives were lost between
1979 and the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Significantly, the mujahidin were party neither to the negotiations
nor to the 1988 agreement and, consequently, refused to accept the terms
of the accords. As a result, the civil war continued after the Soviet withdrawal,
which was completed in February 1989. Najibullah's regime, though failing
to win popular support, territory, or international recognition, was able
to remain in power until 1992 but collapsed after the defection of Gen.
Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Uzbek militia in March. However, when the victorious
mujahidin entered Kabul to assume control over the city and the central
government, a new round of internecine fighting began between the various
militias, which had coexisted only uneasily during the Soviet occupation.
With the demise of their common enemy, the militias' ethnic, clan, religious,
and personality differences surfaced, and the civil war continued.
Seeking to resolve these differences, the leaders of the Peshawar-based
mujahidin groups established an interim Islamic Jihad Council in mid-April
1992 to assume power in Kabul. Moderate leader Prof. Sibghatullah Mojaddedi
was to chair the council for 2 months, after which a 10-member leadership
council composed of mujahidin leaders and presided over by the head of
the Jamiat-i-Islami, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani, was to be set up for 4
months. During this 6-month period, a Loya Jirga, or grand council of Afghan
elders and notables, would convene and designate an interim administration
which would hold power up to a year, pending elections.
But in May 1992, Rabbani prematurely formed the leadership council,
undermining Mojaddedi's fragile authority. In June, Mojaddedi surrendered
power to the Leadership Council, which then elected Rabbani as President.
Nonetheless, heavy fighting broke out in August 1992 in Kabul between forces
loyal to President Rabbani and rival factions, particularly those who supported
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami. After Rabbani extended his tenure
in December 1992, fighting in the capital flared up in January and February
1993. The Islamabad Accord, signed in March 1993, which appointed Hekmatyar
as Prime Minister, failed to have a lasting effect. A follow-up agreement,
the Jalalabad Accord, called for the militias to be disarmed but was never
fully implemented. Through 1993, Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces, allied
with the Shi'a Hezb-i-Wahdat militia, clashed intermittently with Rabbani
and Masood's Jamiat forces. Cooperating with Jamiat were militants of Sayyaf's
Ittehad-i-Islami and, periodically, troops loyal to ethnic Uzbek strongman
Abdul Rashid Dostam. On January 1, 1994, Dostam switched sides, precipitating
large-scale fighting in Kabul and in northern provinces, which caused thousands
of civilian casualties in Kabul and elsewhere and created a new wave of
displaced persons and refugees. The country sank even further into anarchy,
forces loyal to Rabbani and Masood, both ethnic Tajiks, controlled Kabul
and much of the northeast, while local warlords exerted power over the
rest of the country.
Rise of the Taliban
In reaction to the anarchy and warlordism prevalent in the country,
and the lack of Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, a movement
of former mujahidin arose. Many Taliban had been educated in madrassas
in Pakistan and were largely from rural Pashtun backgrounds. The name "Talib"
itself means pupil. This group dedicated itself to removing the warlords,
providing order, and imposing Islam on the country. It received considerable
support from Pakistan. In 1994, it developed enough strength to capture
the city of Kandahar from a local warlord and proceeded to expand its control
throughout Afghanistan, occupying Kabul in September 1996. By the end of
1998, the Taliban occupied about 90% of the country, limiting the opposition
largely to a small mostly Tajik corner in the northeast and the Panjshir
valley. Efforts by the UN, prominent Afghans living outside the country,
and other interested countries to bring about a peaceful solution to the
continuing conflict came to naught, largely because of intransigence on
the part of the Taliban.
The Taliban sought to impose an extreme interpretation of Islam--based
in part upon rural Pashtun tradition--on the entire country and committed
massive human rights violations, particularly directed against women and
girls, in the process. Women were restricted from working outside the home
and pursuing an education, were not to leave their homes without an accompanying
male relative, and were forced to wear a traditional body-covering garment
called the burka. The Taliban committed serious atrocities against minority
populations, particularly the Shi'a Hazara ethnic group, and killed noncombatants
in several well-documented instances. In 2001, as part of a drive against
relics of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past, the Taliban destroyed two large
statues of the Buddha outside of the city of Bamiyan and announced destruction
of all pre-Islamic statues in Afghanistan, including the remaining holdings
of the Kabul Museum.
From the mid-1990s the Taliban provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden,
a Saudi national who had fought with them against the Soviets, and provided
a base for his and other terrorist organizations. The UN Security Council
repeatedly sanctioned the Taliban for these activities. Bin Laden provided
both financial and political support to the Taliban. Bin Laden and his
al Qaeda group were charged with the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi
and Dar Es Salaam in 1998, and in August 1998 the United States launched
a cruise missile attack against bin Laden's terrorist camp in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden and al Qaeda are believed to be responsible for the September
11, 2001 terrorist acts in the United States, among other crimes.
In September 2001, agents working on behalf of the Taliban and believed
to be associated with bin Laden's al Qaeda group assassinated Northern
Alliance Defense Minister and chief military commander Ahmed Shah Masood,
a hero of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets and the Taliban's principal
military opponent. Following the Taliban's repeated refusal to expel bin
Laden and his group and end its support for international terrorism, the
U.S. and its partners in the anti-terrorist coalition began a campaign
on October 7, 2001, targeting terrorist facilities and various Taliban
military and political assets within Afghanistan.
Under pressure from U.S. air power and anti-Taliban ground forces, the
Taliban disintegrated rapidly, and Kabul fell on November 13, 2001. Sponsored
by the UN, Afghan factions opposed to the Taliban met in Bonn, Germany
in early December and agreed to restore stability and governance to Afghanistan
by creating an interim government and establishing a process to move toward
a permanent government. Under this so-called Bonn Agreement, an Afghan
Interim Authority was formed and took office in Kabul on December 22, 2001
with Hamid Karzai as Chairman. The Interim Authority held power for approximately
6 months while preparing for a nationwide Loya Jirga (Grand Council)
in mid-June 2002 that decided on the structure of a Transitional Authority.
The Transitional Authority, headed by President Hamid Karzai, renamed the
government as the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan (TISA). One
of the TISAs primary achievements was the drafting of a constitution that
was ratified by a Constitutional Loya Jirga on January 4, 2004.
Afghanistan identifies itself as an "Islamic Republic." The new national
constitution adopted on January 4, 2004 paved the way for nationwide presidential
and parliamentary elections. Afghanistan held its first national democratic
Presidential elections on October 9, 2004. Hamid Karzai was announced as
the official winner on November 3, 2004. On December 7, 2004 he was
inaugurated as the first democratically elected President in Afghanistans
history. Parliamentary and local elections are planned for spring
The government's authority beyond the capital, Kabul, is slowly growing,
although its ability to deliver necessary social services remains largely
dependent on funds from the international donor community. So far, the
United States has committed over $4 billion to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
At an international donors conference in Berlin in April 2004, donors
pledged $4.5 billion for Afghanistan over the next year, and a total of
$8.2 billion over the next three years.
With anti-terrorist coalition support, the governments capacity to
secure Afghanistans borders to maintain internal order is increasing.
The government continues to work closely with coalition forces in rooting
out remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban. The core of an Afghan National
Army (ANA) is being trained, as are police. Some ministerial reforms are
underway, most prominently at the Ministry of Defense, which has been reorganized
to better reflect Afghanistans ethnic diversity.