History of Afghanistan

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This article is the top of the

History of Afghanistan series.
Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan
Islamic conquest of Afghanistan
Durrani Empire
European influence in Afghanistan
Reforms of Amanullah Khan and civil war
Reigns of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah
Daoud's Republic of Afghanistan
Democratic Republic of Afghanistan
History of Afghanistan since 1992

History of Afghanistan

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 this region of Asia, temporarily establishing local control and often dominating Iran and what is today Pakistan 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?"

Islam played a key role in the formation of Afghanistan's history as well. Despite the Mongol invasion of what is today 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 Afghanistan's 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.

This article briefly outlines each period of History of Afghanistan only; details are presented in separate articles (see the links in the box and below).

Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan (before 651)

Main article: Pre-Islamic period of Afghanistan

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 Gokturks followed in succeeding centuries.

Islamic conquest of Afghanistan (642-1747)

Main article: Islamic conquest of Afghanistan

In AD 642, Arabs invaded the entire region and introduced Islam. Arab rule quickly gave way to the Persians, who controlled the area until conquered by the Ghaznavid Empire in 998. Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030) consolidated the conquests of his predecessors and turned Ghazna (Ghazni) into a great cultural center as well as a base for frequent forays into India. The Ghaznavid dynasty was defeated in 1146 by the Ghurids (Ghor). Various princes and Seljuk rulers attempted to rule parts of the country until the shah Muhammad II of the Khwarezmid Empire conquered all of Persia in 1205. By 1219 the empire had fallen to the Mongols.

Led by Genghis Khan, the invasion 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, Timur Lenk, incorporated what is today Afghanistan into his own vast Asian empire. Babur, a descendant of Timur and the founder of India's Moghul Empire at the beginning of the 16th century, made Kabul the capital of an Afghan principality.

The Durrani Empire (1747-1826)

Main article: Durrani Empire

In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani, the founder of what is known today as Afghanistan, established his rule. A Pashtun, Durrani was elected king in the first Loya Jirga 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.

European influence in Afghanistan (1826-1919)

Main article: European influence in Afghanistan

Dost Mohammed Khan gained control in Kabul. Collision between the expanding British and Russian Empires significantly influenced Afghanistan during the 19th century 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 (1839-1842) resulted in the destruction of a British army; it's remembered as an example of the ferocity of Afghan resistance to foreign rule. The second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-1880) was sparked by Amir Shir 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 Independence Day.

Reforms of Amanullah Khan and civil war (1919-1929)

Main article: Reforms of Amanullah Khan and civil war

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 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.

Reigns of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah (1929-1973)

Main article: Reigns of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah

Prince Mohammed 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. He began consolidating power and regenerating the country. He reversed 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. Until 1946 Zahir Shah ruled with the assistance of his uncle Sardar Mohammad Hashim Khan, 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. 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.

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.

Daoud's Republic of Afghanistan (1973-1978)

Main article: Daoud's Republic of Afghanistan

Amid charges of corruption and malfeasance against the royal family and poor economic conditions created by the severe 1971-72 drought, former Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan 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.

As disillusionment set in, 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, strongly supported by the USSR.

Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (1978-1992)

Main article: Democratic Republic of Afghanistan

The PDPA, as a pro-communist socialist party, implemented a socialist agenda which included decrees abolishing usury, banning forced marriages, state recognition of women’s rights to vote, replacing religious and traditional laws with secular and Marxist ones, banning tribal courts, and land reform. It invited the Soviet Union to assist in modernising its economic infrastructure (predominantly its exploration and mining of rare minerals and natural gas). The USSR also sent contractors to build roads, hospitals, schools and mine for water wells; they also trained and equipped the Afghan army.

These reforms and the PDPA's monopoly on power were met with a large backlash, partly led by members of the traditional establishment. Many of these establishments formed groups in an attempt to reverse the dependence of Afghanistan, some resorting to violent means and sabotage of the country's industry and infrastructure. The puppet government of Afghanistan responded to attacks with heavy handed intervention from the army. The government arrested, exiled and executed many mujahedin "holy Muslim warriors".

In 1979 the Afghan army was overwhelmed with the number of incidents, and the Soviet Union sent troops to support the government they installed by crushing the uprising. On December 25, 1979 the Soviet army entered Kabul. This started the ten year war between the Soviets and the mujahedin resistance. The American CIA, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia assisted in the financing of the groups because of their anti-communist stance, and in the latter case because of their Islamist inclinations.

A wealthy Saudi named Osama bin Laden was a prominent mujahideen organizer and financier; his Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) (Office of Order) funnelled money, arms, and Muslim fighters from around the world into Afghanistan, with the assistance and support of the American, Pakistani, and Saudi governments. In 1988, bin Laden broke away from the MAK with some of its more militant members to form Al-Qaida, in order to expand the anti-Soviet resistance effort into a worldwide Islamic fundamentalist movement.

The Soviet Union withdrew its troops in February 1989, but continued to aid the government, led by Mohammed Najibullah. Massive amounts of aid from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to the mujahadin also continued. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Najibullah government was overthrown April 18, 1992 when Abdul Rashid Dostum mutinied, and allied himself with Ahmed Shah Massoud, to take control of Kabul and declare the Islamic State of Afghanistan.

History of Afghanistan (1992 to present)

Main article: History of Afghanistan since 1992

When the victorious mujahidin entered Kabul to assume control over the city and the central government, 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.

An interim Islamic Jihad Council was put in place, first led by Sibghatullah Mojadeddi for two months, then by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Fighting among rival factions intensified.

In reaction to the anarchy and warlordism prevalent in the country, and the lack of Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, a movement of religious scholars, many of them former mujahideen, arose. The Taliban took control of 90% of the country by 1998, limiting the opposition mostly to a small, largely Tajik corner in the northeast and the Panjshir valley. The opposition formed the Northern Alliance, which continued to receive diplomatic recognition in the United Nations as the government of Afghanistan.

In response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States and its coalition allies launched a successful attack to oust the Taliban government. Sponsored by the UN, Afghan factions met in Bonn and chose a 30 member interim authority led by Hamid Karzai. After governing for 6 months, former King Zahir Shah convened a Loya Jirga, which elected Karzai president, and gave him authority to govern for two more years. However, the interim government holds little power outside of Kabul itself, with regional warlords only nominally subservient to the central government.

Related articles

External links

Further reading

  • 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 Newton Wilber (http://www.spongobongo.com/her9886.htm), Afghanistan
  • Bernard, P. 1994. The Greek Kingdoms of Central Asia. In: History of civilizations of Central Asia, Volume II. The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250. Harmatta, Jnos, ed., 1994. Paris: UNESCO Publishing., pp. 99-129.
  • Hill, John E. 2003. "Annotated Translation of the Chapter on the Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu." 2nd Draft Edition.[1] (http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/texts/hhshu/hou_han_shu.html)
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE. Draft annotated English translation. [2] (http://depts.washington.edu/uwch/silkroad/texts/weilue/weilue.html)
  • Sarianidi, V. I. 1971. The Lapis Lazuli Route in the Ancient East. V. I. Sarianidi. Archaeology Magazine, January 1971, pp. 12-15.
  • Sarianidi, Victor. 1985. The Golden Hoard of Bactria: From the Tillya-tepe Excavations in Northern Afghanistan. Harry N. Abrams, New York.
  • Sarianidi, Victor. 1989. Early Kushan Jeweller's Art. International Association for the Study of the Cultures of Central Asia Information Bulletin, Issue 15. Moscow, Nauka Publishers, pp. 124-134.
  • Sarianidi, V. 1990-1992 Tilya Tepe: The Burial of a Noble Warrior. PERSICA XIV, 1990-1992, pp. 103-130.
  • Watson, Burton. Trans. 1961. Records of the Grand Historian of China: Translated from the Shih chi of Ssu-ma Ch'ien. Chap. 123. The Account of Ta-yan. Columbia University Press.
  • Wood, John. 1872. A Journey to the Source of the River Oxus. New Edition, edited by his son, with an essay on the "Geography of the Valley of the Oxus" by Henry Yule. John Murray, London.


de:Geschichte Afghanistans es:Historia de Afganistn fa:تاریخ افغانستان fr:Histoire de l'Afghanistan gl:Historia de Afganistn he:היסטוריה של אפגניסטן nl:Geschiedenis van Afghanistan no:Afghanistans historie pl:Historia Afganistanu pt:Histria do Afeganisto zh:阿富汗历史


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