Afghanistan History


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

Arab rule quickly 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 the
destruction of many cities, including Herat, Ghazni, and
Balkh, and the despoliation of fertile agricultural

Following Genghis Khan's death in 1227, a succession of
petty chieftains 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 Mashhad 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. 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
Collision between the expanding British and Russian
Empires significantly influenced Afghanistan during the
19th century. 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 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 by members of an anti-British movement in
1919. 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.

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--which had seen modernization and
secularization under Attaturk--introduced several reforms
intended to modernize the country. Some of these, such
as the abolition of the traditional Muslim veil for women
and the opening of a number of coeducational schools,
quickly alienated many tribal and religious leaders. The
weakness of the army under Amanullah further jeopardized
his position. He 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.
With considerable Pashtun tribal support, Khan 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 of both left and right. This 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 supported by the military, and the
Parcham (Banner) faction led by Babrak Karmal. The split
reflected deep 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. 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 caused by the
severe 1971-72 drought, former Prime Minister Daoud
seized power in a military coup on July 17, 1973. 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

Seeking to exploit more effectively mounting popular
disaffection, the PDPA reunified with Moscow's support.
On April 27-28, 1978, the PDPA initiated a bloody coup
which resulted in the overthrow and death 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 Islamic traditions.

Decrees advocating the abolition of usury, changes in
marriage customs, and land reform were particularly
misunderstood and upsetting to highly conservative
villagers. 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

By the summer of 1978, a major revolt in the Nuristan
region of eastern Afghanistan spread into a country-wide
insurgency. In September 1979, Hafizullah Amin, who had
earlier been the Prime Minister and minister of defense,
seized power from Taraki after a palace shootout. Over
the next two months, instability plagued Amin's regime as
he moved against perceived enemies in the PDPA. By
December, party morale was crumbling, and the insurgency
was growing.

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, as 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 of about 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
assassinating high government officials. 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, though, 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 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. Although informal negotiations for a
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway
since 1982, it was not until 1988 that 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 non-interference 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 neither party to the
negotiations nor to the 1988 agreement and, consequently,
refused to accept the terms of the accords. As a result,
civil war did not end with the Soviet withdrawal,
completed as scheduled in February 1989. Instead, it
escalated. Najibul-lah's regime, though failing to win
popular support, territory, or international recognition,
was able to remain in power until 1992.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1994

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