Scientific discoveries of plant remains at the foothill of the Hindu Kush Mountains indicate that North Afghanistan was one of the earliest places to domesticate plants and animals. Ancient Afghanistan was the crossroads between Mesopotamia, and other Civilizations. For many years, the Buddhist religion was prominent in the region, but around 652 A.D., Islam was introduced by the Arabs. Around 1000 A.D., Afghanistan becomes the center of Islamic power and civilization, and Islam remains the most popular religion in the area today.
Since ancient times, the Pashtun nationality has been the most dominant. Other peoples in the country use the term Afghan to refer to the Pashtuns. The royal families of the country were Pashtun, and today the Pashtun make up about half of the total population. Other smaller nationalities, such as the Tajiks, which make up 1/4th of the population, represent the rest.
In the 1200s, conquerors who maintained power of all or part of the country until 1500s, despite much resistance and conflict. After the fall of the Mongol rule in Afghanistan, the country found itself in a situation similar what has continued into modern times: caught between the corruption of two great powers.
In 1747, Afghanistan was able to free itself. In the same year, Nadir Shah, an Iranian empire builder, passed away. He left a void in central Asia that Ahmed Shah, a former Afghan bodyguard, was able to fill. Ahmad was a Pashtun, and his Pashtun clan was to control Afghanistan in varying ways for the next 200 years. Ahmad managed to unify the different Afghan tribes and conquered parts of what is known as today as eastern Iran, Pakistan, northern India and Uzbekistan. His descendants, however, were not capable to keep his large empire together, and within 50 years much of it had been taken by rival powers in the region. Within Afghanistan itself, there were many bloody civil wars for power, and many Afghanis’ lives were now being uprooted and destroyed by ethnic kin, instead of foreign invaders.
Beginning in the 19th century, the intervention of two new imperialist powers, the British Empire and Czarist Russia, increased, and this aggravated affairs within the country. The British were expanding and combining their colonial holdings on the India sub-region, and they saw the Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan as a natural barrier to prevent invasion from opposing imperialists. The Russians were also expanding south and east, seizing several formerly independent sultanates and emirates in Central Asia. The two powers engaged in a race for Afghanistan, and their seizures of land, overthrow of indigenous nations, and careless interference in the independent states remaining in the region was known as “the Great Game.”
In 1838, the First Anglo-Afghan War was the first time British armies from India invaded Afghanistan attempting to install puppet governments that would support British economic interests and would oppose the economic interests of Czarist Russia. Even after Mohammad, the Afghan ruler, agreed to the British demands (to hand over Pashtun land & shun Russia and Iran), the British still invaded the country, and there was little resistance. They seized most of the major cities in Afghanistan. However, their rule soon resulted in revolt by the people, which resulted in the massacre of the entire British army of 15,000. After a Russian diplomatic envoy arrived in Kabul in 1878, the British outrage over this uninvited visitor caused the Second Anglo-Afghan war. The British were able to occupy all of the major cities a second time, but unlike the last time, there was rebellion against their occupation in progress. The British brutally crushed resistance immediately. They did withdraw later, but not before they set up a puppet ruler and made the country to hand over control of its foreign affairs to Britain. Afghanistan remained a British colony until 1919.
After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and tidal waves of rebellion in Asia, the Afghan king, Amanullah Khan, made changes to promote social and political modernization, declared his country’s full independence by singing a treaty with Vladimir Lenin, and then declared war on Britain. After a brief period of border conflicts and the Royal Air Force bombing Kabul, Britain recognized Afghanistan’s independence. However, Britain conspired with the country that was unhappy with Amanullah’s attempts to reform the country. The outbreak of a civil war forced him step down from the throne in 1929. Various warlords fought for power until a new king, Muhammad Nadir Shah took power that same year, but he was assassinated four years later by the son of a state execution victim. Muhammad Zahir Shah was the next king with almost complete autocratic power, but he was to be Afghanistan’s last king. He was to be advised by councils that couldn’t represent the Afghan people, and political parties were even outlawed. Zahir Shah had complete and total power. Zahir Shah ruled for the next 40 years until he was overthrown in 1973. At this time, a republic was declared.
Daoud Khan declared himself the first president of the Republic of Afghanistan. Under Daoud, a kind of liberalization took place but nothing that lived up to the hopes of the Afghan people. He had seized power with the help of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan, an underground communist party, in exchange for government posts; however, he cut off the alliance as soon as he seized power. In 1978, the PDPA seized power and essentially declared a secular state and promoted equality for women. They also tried to start land reforms but were met with resistance and several rural areas began to rebel.
After the PDPA’s coup, the Soviet Union took an interest in the socialist revolution unfolding and invaded in 1979, giving power to the leader of a faction of the PDPA. The Soviets had to commit to promoting the PDPA as they were met with resistance, such as Islamic fundamentalists beginning guerilla warfare.
During this time, the United States had been focused on the Iranian revolution to overthrow their autocratic ruler, but this focus shifted when the USSR sent troops into Afghanistan. The US began providing military training to anti-communist Islamic groups and helping the fundamentalists waging war on the communists. The Soviets were able to occupy all the major cities, but they were unable to occupy the countryside. Along with that, casualties on their side were accumulating and the costs were also adding up. The Mujahadeen, Islamic fundamentalists and guerillas, called for a holy war, jihad, against the Soviets, including the wealthy Saudi Osama bin-Laden, who became one of the CIA’s most important people in the war against communism.
On February 15, 1989, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and in May of that same year, the Afghan guerillas elect Sibhhatullah Mojadidi as the head of their government-in-exile. The Mujahadeen refused a “puppet government”, fighting with the PDPA and within the group itself, and finally demolished all remains of the PDPA government in 1992. They established an Islamic State, and they elected Rabbani as President. However, the civil war continued on as Mujahadeen warlords brought death and destruction to the country as they sought to expand their power. This also ended the Stalinist attempts to bring about reform for the Afghan people at the point of a gun.
In 1994, the Taliban militia is born. It was founded by Mullah Mohammed Omar and other members of the Pakistani Intelligence in order to end the civil war which threatened the country’s stability. Born in Islamic schools in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, it was made of mostly Pashtun religious students driven by the zeal of religion and the belief that they were supposed to bring stability and the ways of the Allah back to Afghanistan. When they began a military push to take over the country, many people were in support of them, and they were able to occupy most of the country. They forced warlords to retreat, and the warlords created the Northern Alliance. They sought to create a theoretic state based on their interpretation of the Quaran, and the country subsequently became isolated both diplomatically and politically. The Taliban would rule the country between 1996 and 2001.
On September 11, 2001, the US World Trade Center was attacked. The US government accused Osama bin Laden of orchestrating the attacks, and they demanded that the Taliban hand him over. The Taliban responded by asking for proof, received none, and refused their demand. The US began bombing Afghanistan within weeks and gave support to the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance seizes Mazar-i Sharif and move to take Kabul. This began a series of defeats of the Taliban, who began to surrender and abandon their land. The US continued to bomb and send military troops to search for bin Laden. Recently, President Obama announced to the American people that bin Laden was killed by a Navy Seals squad. Meanwhile, the Afghan people suffer tremendously in their war-torn nation.
What is in the future for Afghanistan? The President claims he has a plan to gradually withdraw all US troops within the near future, and many Americans are eager for the war to end. As for the Afghanis, several anti-Taliban uprising have come about such as the Ghazni Uprising, but they seem to be more local and not tied to a larger scheme. Many Afghans are not happy with the harsh Taliban, especially women, as they receive unfair treatment under this government. One solution proposed include using the support of peace organizations and other foreign aid may help build an infrastructure with a strong communications system, stabilizing and strengthening Afghanistan. Economic development would also help the country form a national identity. The country will need to make some major changes in order to get where they need to go to achieve harmony.
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