Skip to comments.History of Afganistan
Posted on 09/15/2001 3:43:32 PM PDT by AgThorn
Excavation of prehistoric sites suggests that early humans lived in northern Afghanistan at least 50,000 years ago and that farming communities in Afghanistan were among the earliest in the world. After 2000 BC successive waves of people from Central Asia moved into the area. Since many of these settlers were Aryans (speakers of the parent language of the Indo-European languages), a people who also migrated to Persia (now Iran) and India in prehistoric times, the area was called Aryana, or Land of the Aryans.
By the middle of the 6th century BC the Persian Empire of the Achaemenid dynasty controlled the region of Aryana. About 330 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the last Achaemenid ruler and made his way to the eastern limits of Aryana and beyond. After his death in 323 BC several kingdoms fought for control of his Asian empire. These kingdoms included Seleucids, Bactria, and the Indian Mauryan Empire.A. Buddhist Period
About the 1st century AD the Kushans, a central Asian people, won control of Aryana. Buddhism was the dominant religion from the 3rd century to the 8th century AD. Ruins of many monasteries and stupas, or reliquary mounds (structures where sacred relics are kept or displayed), from that period still remain. They line what was once a great Buddhist pilgrimage road from India to Balkh, in northern Afghanistan, and on into Central Asia.
Kushan power was destroyed at the end of the 4th century AD by a Turkic people of central Asian origin called the White Huns or Ephthalites. After the Ephthalites, the area was divided among several kingdoms, some Buddhist, some Hindu.B. Islamic Period
In the 7th century AD Arab armies carried the new religion of Islam to Afghanistan. The western provinces of Herat and Sistan came under Arab rule, but the people of these provinces revolted and returned to their old beliefs as soon as the Arab armies passed. In the 10th century Muslim rulers called Samanids, from Bukhoro in what is now Uzbekistan, extended their influence into the Afghan area. A Samanid established a dynasty in Ghazni called the Ghaznavids. The greatest Ghaznavid king, Mahmud, who ruled from 998 to 1030, established Islam throughout the area of Afghanistan. He led many military expeditions into India. Ghazni became a center of literature and the arts.
The Ghaznavid state grew weaker under Mahmud's descendants and gave way in the middle of the 12th century to the Ghurid kingdom, which arose in Ghur, in the west central region of present-day Afghanistan. The Ghurids in turn were routed early in the 13th century by the Khwarizm Shahs, another central Asian dynasty. They were swept away in about 1220 by the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, who devastated the land.
Near the end of the 14th century the central Asian military leader Tamerlane (Timur Lang) conquered the region of Afghanistan and moved on into India. His sons and grandsons, the Timurids, could not hold Tamerlane's empire together. However, they ruled most of present-day Afghanistan from Herat.
The period from the Ghurid through the Timurid dynasty produced fine Islamic architectural monuments. Many of these mosques, shrines, and minarets still stand in Herat, Qal'eh-ye Bost, Ghazni, and Mazar-e Sharif. An important school of miniature painting flourished at Herat in the 15th century.
A descendant of Tamerlane on his father's side and Genghis Khan on his mother's side, Babur (Zahiruddin Muhammad) took Kabul in October 1504 and then moved on to India, where he established the Mughal Empire.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Afghanistan was fought over by the rulers of the Mughal Empire, centered in India, and those of the Safavid dynasty, in Persia. Usually the Mughals held Kabul and the Persians held Herat, with Kandahar frequently changing hands. The Pashtun tribes increased their power, but they failed to win independence.C. An Afghan Empire
In the 18th century, Nadir Shah, the king of Persia, employed the Abdali tribe of Pashtuns in his wars in India. Ahmad Shah, an Abdali chief who had gained a high post in Nadir Shah's army, established himself in Kandahar after Nadir Shah's assassination in 1747. An assembly of tribal chiefs proclaimed him shah and the Afghans extended their rule as far east as Kashmir and Delhi, north to the Amu Darya, and west into northern Persia.
In the 19th century, palace rivalries and internal conflicts gradually reduced the Afghan empire to roughly its present borders. Both the British in India and the Russians sought to bring Afghanistan under their influence. This Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) resulted in two wars, the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842) and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). After the second of these wars, the British won control of Afghanistan's foreign relations.D. Modern Afghanistan
Abd-ar-Rahman Khan became emir of Afghanistan in 1880. During his reign the British drew a border, the Durand Line of 1893, between Afghanistan and British India. Afghanistan became a buffer between the British and Russian empires.
Abd-ar-Rahman Khan extended his control throughout the territory within these boundaries. His son, Habibullah, who reigned from 1901 until 1919, took the first steps toward the introduction of modern education and industry. Habibullah's son and successor, Amanullah, initiated a brief war, the Third Anglo-Afghan War, in 1919 to end British control over Afghan foreign affairs. The resulting peace treaty recognized the independence of Afghanistan.
Amanullah was determined to modernize his country. In 1926 he took the title of king. His reforms, including efforts to induce women to give up the burka, or full-length veil, and to make men wear Western clothing in certain public areas, offended religious and ethnic group leaders. Revolts broke out, and in 1929 Amanullah fled the country.
Order was restored in 1930 by four brothers who were relatives of Amanullah. One of them, Muhammad Nadir Shah, became king, but he was assassinated in 1933. His son, Muhammad Zahir Shah, succeeded him. Power remained concentrated in the hands of Zahir and the royal family for the next four decades. In 1946 Afghanistan joined the United Nations (UN).
In 1953 Muhammad Daud, a nephew of Nadir Shah, became prime minister. Daud began to modernize Afghanistan rapidly with the help of economic and especially military aid from the USSR; the modern Afghan army was largely created with Soviet equipment and technical training. The United States declined to assist in this process. Social reform proceeded slowly because the government was afraid to antagonize conservative ethnic group leaders and devout Muslims. Relations with Pakistan deteriorated after Daud called for self-determination for the Pathan tribes of northwestern Pakistan.
In 1963, hoping to halt the growth of Soviet influence and to improve relations with Pakistan, Zahir Shah removed Daud as prime minister. In 1964 Afghanistan adopted a new constitution, changing the country from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. The armed forces still depended on the Soviet Union for equipment and training. A severe drought in the early 1970s caused economic hardship, and the popularity of the regime declined.E. End of Monarchy
In 1973 Muhammad Daud overthrew the king in a coup. He declared Afghanistan a republic with himself as president. Daud announced ambitious plans for economic development and tried to play the USSR against Western donors, but his dictatorial government was opposed both by radical left-wing intellectuals and soldiers and by traditionalist ethnic leaders. The leading leftist organization was the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had been founded in 1965 and in 1967 split into a pro-Soviet Parcham faction and a much more radical Khalq faction. The two groups joined forces in 1976 to oppose Daud.F. Leftist Coup and Soviet Invasion
In April 1978, after Daud launched a crackdown against the PDPA, leftist military officers overthrew him. PDPA leader Noor Muhammad Taraki became president. Taraki and his lieutenant Hafizullah Amin, both members of the Khalq faction, purged many Parcham leaders. Taraki announced a sweeping revolutionary program, including land reform, the emancipation of women, and a campaign against illiteracy. Late in 1978 Islamic traditionalists and ethnic leaders who objected to rapid social change began an armed revolt. By the summer of 1979 the rebels controlled much of the Afghan countryside. In September Taraki was deposed and later killed. Amin, his successor, tried vigorously to suppress the rebellion and resisted Soviet efforts to make him moderate his policies. The government's position deteriorated, however, and on December 25, 1979, Soviet forces invaded. They quickly won control of Kabul and other important centers. The Soviets executed Amin on December 27 and Babrak Karmal, leader of PDPA's Parcham faction, was installed as president.
Karmal denounced Amin's repressive policies and promised to combine social and economic reform with respect for Islam and for Afghan traditions. But the government, dependent on Soviet military forces, was unpopular, and the rebellion intensified. During the next few years about 3 million war refugees fled to Pakistan and 1.5 million fled to Iran. Many refugees also moved from the countryside to Kabul. The antigovernment guerrilla forces included dozens of factions. They operated from bases around Peshawar, Pakistan, and, to a lesser extent, in Iran. They were sustained by weapons and money from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China. By the mid-1980s the United States was spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to aid Afghan rebels based in Pakistan.
During the 1980s Soviet forces increasingly bore the brunt of the fighting. By 1986 about 118,000 Soviet troops and 50,000 Afghan government troops were facing perhaps 130,000 guerrillas. Although the Soviet troops used modern equipment, including tanks and bombers, the guerrillas were also well armed, and they had local support and operated more effectively in familiar mountainous terrain. In 1986 the United States began supplying the rebels with Stinger missiles able to shoot down Soviet armored helicopters.
The effects of the war on Afghanistan were devastating. Half of the population was displaced inside the country, forced to migrate outside the country, wounded, or killed. Estimates of combat fatalities range between 700,000 and 1.3 million people. With the school system largely destroyed, industrialization severely restricted, and large irrigation projects badly damaged, the economy of the country was crippled. Despite some negative reaction, the presence of so many refugees in neighboring Pakistan and Iran actually improved Afghan relations with those countries. In addition, many of the refugees improved their lives considerably by leaving Afghanistan and the dangers of war therein. Because the majority of the refugees were religious, their fellow Muslims in Iran and Pakistan accepted them, even while the Iranian and Pakistani governments were striving to bring about the fall of the Communist regime in Kabul.
In May 1986 Karmal was replaced as PDPA leader by Muhammad Najibullah, a member of the Parcham faction who had headed the Afghan secret police. In November 1987 Najibullah was elected president.G. Soviet Withdrawal
When Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet leader in 1985, he gave high priority to getting Soviet troops out of the costly, unpopular, unwinnable war in Afghanistan. In May 1988 Afghanistan, Pakistan, the USSR, and the United States signed agreements providing for an end to foreign intervention in Afghanistan, and the USSR began withdrawing its forces. The Soviet withdrawal was completed in February 1989.H. Civil War
The rebels, who did not sign the agreement concerning the Soviet withdrawal, maintained their fight against the Afghanistan central government with weapons that they continued to get from the United States via Pakistan. They rejected offers from Najibullah to make peace and share power, and refused to consider participating in any national government that included Communists. Thus the civil war continued. The United States and Pakistani sponsors prompted the Peshawar-based rebels to besiege Jalalabad, a strong point for Najibullah in southern Afghanistan. After months of fighting, however, the Afghan government scored a clear victory. A March 1990 coup attempt also failed to bring down Najibullah. He continued to receive Soviet food, fuel, and weapons to help maintain his control. However, rebels persisted in terrorizing the civilian population by rocket bombardment of Kabul and other cities. Finally in late 1991 the USSR and the United States signed an agreement to end military aid to the Kabul government and to the rebels.
In 1992 as the resistance closed in on Kabul, the Najibullah government fell and the Peshawar groups joined forces with General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, and Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik, in the north and central mountains to assume control in Kabul. As a result, Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, became interim president from July through December 1992, and took office as full president in January 1993. A strong attempt was made to keep the Pashtun leaders, who traditionally held the power in Afghanistan, out of the most important government positions. Kabul was besieged beginning in 1992, first by various mujahideen factions and then by the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, who sought to reestablish Pashtun dominance in the capital.
The Taliban emerged in the fall of 1994 as a faction of guerrilla soldiers who identified themselves as religious students. The movement started in the south and worked its way toward Herat in the northwest and Kabul in the east. It made outstanding military gains using armor, heavy rocket artillery, and helicopters against government forces. The Taliban said that their mission was to disarm the county's warring factions and to impose their strictly orthodox version of Islamic law. Some experts suspect the Pakistani government of supporting the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, in order to keep the combat within Afghanistan and out of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, which is a major part of the Pashtun homeland.
The term of Rabbani's government expired in December 1994, but he continued to hold office amidst the chaos of the civil war. Factional fighting since the beginning of January 1994 kept government officers from actually occupying ministries and discharging government responsibilities. Most cities outside of Kabul were administered by former resistance commanders and their shuras (councils). In June 1996 Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had resigned as prime minister in 1994 to launch a military offensive against forces loyal to Rabbani, again assumed the post, this time to help Rabbani's government fight the Taliban threat. Despite their efforts, the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996. Rabbani and Hekmatyar fled north, joining other factions in an opposition alliance against the Taliban. In 1997 the opposition coalition took the name United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan and appointed Dostum as chief military commander. By the late 1990s the Taliban controlled almost all of Afghanistan, although most other countries had not recognized the group as the legitimate government of the Afghan state.
In 1998, after terrorist bombings struck U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States launched cruise missiles at alleged terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan. The camps were reportedly connected to an international terrorist ring allegedly run by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian named by U.S. officials as the mastermind behind the embassy bombings.
In early 1999 a United Nations diplomatic initiative produced an agreement among Afghanistan's warring factions. The accord called for a permanent cease-fire and a shared government. However, fighting erupted again almost immediately, and plans for further talks were delayed.
Contributed By: John Ford Shroder, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Regents Professor of Geography and Geology, University of Nebraska. Editor, Himalaya to the Sea: Geology, Geomorphology, and the Quaternary and other books.
"Afghanistan". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
http://encarta.msn.com (15 Sept. 2001)
© 2000 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
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