Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) peoples probably roamed Afghanistan as early as 100,000 years ago. The earliest definite evidence of human occupation was found in the cave of Darra-i-Kur in Badakhshān, where a transitional Neanderthal skull fragment in association with Mousterian-type tools was discovered; the remains are of the Middle Paleolithic Period, dating to about 30,000 years ago. Caves near Āq Kupruk yielded evidence of an early Neolithic culture (c. 9000–6000 bc) based on domesticated animals. Archaeological research since World War II has revealed Bronze Age sites, dating both before and after the Indus civilization of the 3rd to the 2nd millennium bc. There was trade with Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the main export from the Afghan area was lapis lazuli from the mines of Badakhshān. In addition, a site with definite links to the Indus civilization has been excavated at Shortughai near the Amu Darya, northeast of Kondoz.
In the 6th century bc the Achaemenian ruler Cyrus II (the Great) established his authority over the area. Darius I (the Great) consolidated Achaemenian rule of the region through the provinces, or satrapies, of Aria (in the region of modern Herāt), Bactria (Balkh), Sattagydia (modern Ghaznī to the Indus River), Arachosia (Kandahār), and Drangiana (Sīstān).
Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenids and conquered most of the Afghan satrapies before he left for India in 327 bc. Ruins of an outpost Greek city founded about 325 bc were discovered at Ay Khānom, at the confluence of the Amu Darya and Kowkcheh River. Excavations there produced inscriptions and transcriptions of Delphic precepts written in a script influenced by cursive Greek. Greek decorative elements dominate the architecture, including an immense administrative centre, a theatre, and a gymnasium. A nomadic raid about 130 bc ended the Greek era at Ay Khānom.
After Alexander’s death in 323 bc, the eastern satrapies passed to the Seleucid dynasty, which ruled from Babylon. About 304 bc the territory south of the Hindu Kush was ceded to the Maurya dynasty of northern India. Bilingual rock inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic (the official language of the Achaemenids) found at Kandahār and Laghmān (in eastern Afghanistan) date from the reign of Ashoka (Aśoka; c. 265–238 bc, or c. 273–232 bc), the Maurya dynasty’s most renowned emperor. Diodotus, a local Greco-Bactrian governor, declared the Afghan plain of the Amu Darya independent about 250 bc; Greco-Bactrian conquerors moved south about 180 bc and established their rule at Kabul and in the Punjab. The Parthians of eastern Iran also broke away from the Seleucids, establishing control over Sīstān and Kandahār in the south.
About 135 bc a loose confederation of five Central Asian nomadic tribes known as the Yuezhi wrested Bactria from the Bactrian Greeks. These tribes united under the banner of the Kushān (Kuṣāṇa), one of the five tribes, and conquered the Afghan area. The zenith of Kushān power was reached in the 2nd century ad under King Kaniṣka (c. ad 78–144), whose empire stretched from Mathura in north-central India beyond Bactria as far as the frontiers of China in Central Asia.
The Kushāns were patrons of the arts and of religion. A major branch of the Silk Road—which carried luxury goods and facilitated the exchange of ideas between Rome, India, and China—passed through Afghanistan, where a transshipment centre existed at Balkh. Indian pilgrims traveling the Silk Road introduced Buddhism to China during the early centuries ad, and Buddhist Gandhāra art flourished during this period. The world’s largest Buddha figures (175 feet [53 metres] and 120 feet [about 40 metres] tall) were carved into a cliff at Bāmīān in the central mountains of Afghanistan during the 4th and 5th centuries ad; the statues were destroyed in 2001 by the country’s ruling Taliban. Further evidence of the trade and cultural achievement of the period has been recovered at the Kushān summer capital of Bagrām, north of Kabul; it includes painted glass from Alexandria; plaster matrices, bronzes, porphyries, and alabasters from Rome; carved ivories from India; and lacquers from China. A massive Kushān city at Delbarjin, north of Balkh, and a major gold hoard of superb artistry near Sheberghān, west of Balkh, also have been excavated.
The Kushān empire did not long survive Kaniṣka, though for centuries Kushān princes continued to rule in various provinces. Persian Sāsānids established control over parts of Afghanistan, including Bagrām, in ad 241. In 400 a new wave of Central Asian nomads under the Hephthalites took control, only to be defeated in 565 by a coalition of Sāsānids and Western Turks. From the 5th through the 7th century many Chinese Buddhist pilgrims continued to travel through Afghanistan. The pilgrim Xüanzang wrote an important account of his travels, and several of the religious centres he visited, including Hadda, Ghazna (Ghaznī), Kondoz, Bāmīān, Shotorak, and Bagrām, have been excavated.
Under the Hephthalites and Sāsānids, many of the Afghan princedoms were influenced by Hinduism. The Hindu kings of the Shāhī family were concentrated in the Kabul and Ghaznī areas. Excavated sites of the period include a major Hindu Shāhī temple north of Kabul and a chapel in Ghaznī that contains both Buddhist and Hindu statuary, indicating that there was a mingling of these two religions.
The first Muslim dynasties
Islamic armies defeated the Sāsānids in 642 at the Battle of Nahāvand (near modern Hamadān, Iran) and advanced into the Afghan area, but they were unable to hold the territory; cities submitted, only to rise in revolt, and the hastily converted returned to their old beliefs once the armies had passed. The 9th and 10th centuries witnessed the rise of numerous local Islamic dynasties. One of the earliest was the Ṭāhirids of Khorāsān, whose kingdom included Balkh and Herāt; they established virtual independence from the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate in 820. The Ṭāhirids were succeeded in 867–869 by a native dynasty from Sīstān, the Ṣaffārids. Local princes in the north soon became feudatories of the powerful Sāmānids, who ruled from Bukhara. From 872 to 999 Bukhara, Samarkand, and Balkh enjoyed a golden age under Sāmānid rule.
- □ Louis Dupree
□ Nancy Hatch Dupree
In the middle of the 10th century a former Turkish slave named Alptigin seized Ghazna. He was succeeded by another former slave, Subüktigin, who extended the conquests to Kabul and the Indus. His son was the great Maḥmūd of Ghazna, who came to the throne in 998. Maḥmūd conquered the Punjab and Multan and carried his raids into the heart of India. The hitherto obscure town of Ghazna became a splendid city, as did the second capital at Bust (Lashkar Gāh).
Maḥmūd’s descendants continued to rule over a gradually diminishing empire until 1150, when ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Ḥusayn of Ghūr, a mountain-locked region in central Afghanistan, sacked Ghazna and drove the last Ghaznavid into India. ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn’s nephew, Muʿizz al-Dīn Muḥammad, known as Muḥammad of Ghūr, first invaded India in 1175. After his death in 1206, his general, Quṭb al-Dīn Aybak, became the sultan of Delhi.
Shortly after Muḥammad of Ghūr’s death, the Ghurīd empire fell apart, and Afghanistan was occupied by Sultan ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Muḥammad, the Khwārezm-Shah. The territories of the Khwārezm-Shah dynasty extended from Chinese Turkistan in the east to the borders of Iraq in the west.
- □ Frank Raymond Allchin
The Mongol invasion
Genghis Khan invaded the eastern part of ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn’s empire in 1219. Avoiding a battle, ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn retreated to a small island in the Caspian Sea, where he died in 1220. Soon after ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn’s death, his energetic son Jalāl al-Dīn Mingburnu rallied the Afghan highlanders at Parwan (modern Jabal os Sarāj), near Kabul, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Mongols under Kutikonian. Genghis Khan, who was then at Herāt, hastened to avenge the defeat and laid siege to Bāmīān. There Ṃutugen, the khan’s grandson, was killed, an event so infuriating to Genghis Khan that when he captured the citadel he ordered that no living being be spared. Bāmīān was utterly destroyed. Advancing on Ghazna, Genghis won a great victory over Jalāl al-Dīn, who then fell back toward the Indus (1221), where he made a final but unsuccessful stand.
After Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, his vast empire fell to pieces. In Afghanistan some local chiefs succeeded in establishing independent principalities, and others acknowledged Mongol princes as suzerains. This state of affairs continued until the end of the 14th century, when Timur (Tamerlane) conquered a large part of the country.
Timur’s successors, the Timurids (1405–1507), were great patrons of learning and the arts who enriched their capital city of Herāt with fine buildings. Under their rule Afghanistan enjoyed peace and prosperity.
Early in the 16th century the Turkic Uzbeks rose to power in Central Asia under Muḥammad Shaybānī, who took Herāt in 1507. In late 1510 the Ṣafavid shah Ismāʿīl I besieged Shaybānī in Merv and killed him. Bābur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and Timur, had made Kabul the capital of an independent principality in 1504. He captured Kandahār in 1522, and in 1526 he marched on Delhi. He defeated Ibrāhīm, the last of the Lodī Afghan kings of India, and established the Mughal Empire, which lasted until the middle of the 19th century and included all of eastern Afghanistan south of the Hindu Kush. The capital was at Agra. Nine years after his death in 1530, the body of Bābur was taken to Kabul for burial.
During the next 200 years Afghanistan was parceled between the Mughals of India and the Ṣafavids of Persia—the former holding Kabul north to the southern foothills of the Hindu Kush and the latter, Herāt and Farāh. Kandahār was in dispute for many years.
Last Afghan empire
Periodic attempts were made to gain independence. In 1709 Mīr Vays Khan, a leader of the Hotaki Ghilzay tribe, led a successful rising against Gorgīn Khan, the Persian governor of Kandahār.
● The Hotakis:
Mīr Vays Khan governed Kandahār until his death in 1715. In 1716 the Abdālīs (Durrānī) of Herāt, encouraged by his example, took up arms against the Persians and under their leader, Asad Allāh Khan, succeeded in liberating their province. Maḥmūd, Mīr Vays’s young son and successor, was not content with holding Kandahār, and in 1722 he led some 20,000 men against Eṣfahān; the Ṣafavid government surrendered after a six-month siege.
Maḥmūd died in 1725 and was succeeded by Ashraf, who had to contend with Russian pressure from the north and Ottoman Turk advances from the west. Shah Ashraf halted both the Russian and Turkish onslaughts, but a brigand chief, Nādr Qolī Beg, defeated the Afghans at Dāmghān in October 1729 and drove them from Persia. During the retreat Ashraf was murdered, probably on orders from his cousin, who was then holding Kandahār.
● Nādir Shah:
Nādr Qolī Beg took Herāt in 1732 after a desperate siege. Nādr was impressed by the courage of the Herātis and recruited many of them to serve in his army. He had himself elected shah of Persia, with the name Nādir Shah, in 1736.
In 1738, after a year’s siege, the city of Kandahār fell to Nādir Shah’s army of 80,000 men. Nādir Shah seized Ghazna and Kabul and occupied the Mughal capital at Delhi in 1739. His booty included the Koh-i-noor diamond and the Peacock Throne. He was assassinated at Fatḥābād, Iran, in 1747, which led to the disintegration of his empire and the rise of the last great Afghan empire. 
● The Durrānī dynasty:
The commander of Nādir Shah’s 4,000-man Afghan bodyguard was Aḥmad Khan Abdālī, who returned to Kandahār and was elected shah by a tribal council. He adopted the title Durr-i Durrān (“Pearl of Pearls”). Supported by most tribal leaders, Aḥmad Shah Durrānī extended Afghan control from Meshed to Kashmir and Delhi, from the Amu Darya to the Arabian Sea. The Durrānī was the second greatest Muslim empire in the second half of the 18th century, surpassed in size only by the Ottoman.
Aḥmad Shah died in 1772 and was succeeded by his son, Tīmūr Shah, who received but nominal homage from the tribal chieftains. Much of his reign was spent in quelling their rebellions. Because of this opposition, Tīmūr shifted his capital from Kandahār to Kabul in 1776.
● Zamān Shah (1793–1800):
After the death of Tīmūr in 1793, his fifth son, Zamān, seized the throne with the help of Sardār Pāyenda Khan, a chief of the Bārakzay. Zamān then turned to India with the object of repeating the exploits of Aḥmad Shah. This alarmed the British, who induced Fatḥ ʿAlī Shah of Persia to bring pressure on the Afghan king and divert his attention from India. The shah went a step further by helping Maḥmūd, governor of Herāt and a brother of Zamān, with men and money and encouraging him to advance on Kandahār. Maḥmūd, assisted by his vizier, Fatḥ Khan Bārakzay, eldest son of Sardār Pāyenda Khan, and by Fatḥ ʿAlī Shah, took Kandahār and advanced on Kabul. Zamān, in India, hurried back to Afghanistan. There he was handed over to Maḥmūd, blinded, and imprisoned (1800). The Durrānī empire had begun to disintegrate after 1798, when Zamān Shah appointed a Sikh, Ranjit Singh, as governor of Lahore.
● Shah Maḥmūd (1800–03; 1809–18):
Shah Maḥmūd left affairs of state to Fatḥ Khan. Some of the chiefs who had grievances against the king or his ministers joined forces and invited Zamān’s brother Shah Shojāʿ (1803–09; 1839–42) to Kabul. The intrigue was successful. Shah Shojāʿ occupied the capital, and Maḥmūd sued for peace.
The new king, Shah Shojāʿ, ascended the throne in 1803. The chiefs had become powerful and unruly, and the outlying provinces were asserting their independence. The Sikhs of the Punjab were encroaching on Afghan territories from the east, while the Persians were threatening from the west.
Napoleon I, then at the zenith of his power in Europe, proposed to Alexander I of Russia a combined invasion of India. A British mission, headed by Mountstuart Elphinstone, met Shah Shojāʿ at Peshawar to discuss mutual defense against this threat, which never developed. In a treaty of friendship concluded June 7, 1809, the shah promised to oppose the passage of foreign troops through his dominions. Shortly after the mission left Peshawar, news was received that Kabul had been occupied by the forces of Maḥmūd and Fatḥ Khan. The troops of Shah Shojāʿ were routed, and the shah withdrew from Afghanistan and found asylum with the British at Ludhiāna, India, in 1815.
● The rise of the Bārakzay:
The Bārakzay were now dominant. This situation incited the jealousy of Kāmrān, Maḥmūd’s eldest son, who seized and blinded Fatḥ Khan. Later Shah Maḥmūd had him cut to pieces.
● Dūst Moḥammad (1826–39; 1843–63):
Advancing from Kashmir in 1818, Dūst Moḥammad, younger brother of Fatḥ Khan, took Peshawar and Kabul and drove Shah Maḥmūd and Kāmrān from all their possessions except Herāt, where they maintained a precarious footing for a few years. Balkh was seized by the ruler of Bukhara; the trans-Indus Afghan districts were occupied by the Sikhs; and the outlying provinces of Sind and Baluchistan assumed independence.
Ghazna, Kabul, and Jalālābād fell to Dūst Moḥammad.
Dūst Moḥammad established the Bārakzay (or Moḥammadzay) dynasty. His position secure after he assumed the title of emir in 1826 at Kabul, he decided to recover Peshawar from the Sikhs. Declaring a jihad, or Islamic holy war, in 1836, he advanced on Peshawar. The Sikh leader Ranjit Singh, however, sowed dissension in Dūst Moḥammad’s camp, the invading army melted away, and Peshawar was lost to the Afghans.
In November 1837 Moḥammad Shah of Persia laid siege to Herāt, which the British saw as the key to India. The Russians supported the Persians. The British, fearful that Persia was falling completely under Russian influence, entered into alliances with the rulers of Herāt, Kabul, and Kandahār. A British mission to Kabul under Captain (later Sir) Alexander Burnes in 1837 was welcomed by Dūst Moḥammad, who hoped the British would help him recover Peshawar. Burnes could not give him the required assurances; and when a Russian agent appeared in Kabul, the British left for India.
With the failure of Burnes’s mission, the governor-general of India, Lord Auckland, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan, with the object of restoring Shah Shojāʿ to the throne. In April 1839, after suffering great privations, the British army entered Kandahār; Shojāʿ was then crowned shah. Ghazna was captured in the following July, and in August Shah Shojāʿ was installed at Kabul. The Afghans, however, would tolerate neither a foreign occupation nor a king imposed on them by a foreign power, and insurrections broke out. Dūst Moḥammad—who had escaped first to Balkh, then to Bukhara, where he was arrested—escaped from prison and returned to Afghanistan to lead his partisans against the British. In a battle at Parwan on November 2, 1840, Dūst Moḥammad had the upper hand, but the next day he surrendered to the British in Kabul. He was deported to India with the greater part of his family.
Outbreaks continued throughout the country, and the British eventually found their position untenable. Terms for their withdrawal were discussed with Akbar Khan, Dūst Moḥammad’s son, but Sir William Hay Macnaghten, the British political agent, was killed during a parlay with the Afghans. On January 6, 1842, some 4,500 British and Indian troops, with 12,000 camp followers, marched out of Kabul. Bands of Afghans swarmed around them, and the retreat ended in a bloodbath. Shah Shojāʿ was killed after the British left Kabul.
Though in the summer of that same year British forces reoccupied Kabul, the new governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, decided on the evacuation of Afghanistan. In 1843 Dūst Moḥammad returned to Kabul. During the next 20 years he consolidated his rule by occupying Kandahār (1855), Balkh and the northern Khanates (1859), and Herāt (1863), the last less than a month before his death in June.
● Shīr ʿAlī (1863–66; 1868–79):
Shīr ʿAlī Khan, Dūst Moḥammad’s third son, then became emir, but his two elder brothers took the throne from him in May 1866. Shīr ʿAlī regained his throne in September 1868. Shīr ʿAlī’s reception of a Russian mission at Kabul and his refusal to receive a British one, on British terms, led directly to the war of 1878–80. Shīr ʿAlī, leaving his son, Yaʿqūb Khan, as his regent in Kabul, sought help from the Russians, but they advised him to make peace. Shīr ʿAlī died in Mazār-e Sharīf in 1879.
● Yaʿqūb Khan (1879):
The Treaty of Gandamak (Gandomak; May 26, 1879) recognized Yaʿqūb Khan as emir, and he subsequently agreed to receive a permanent British embassy at Kabul. In addition, he agreed to conduct his foreign relations with other states in accordance “with the wishes and advice” of the British government. This British triumph, however, was short-lived. On September 3, 1879, the British envoy and his escort were murdered in Kabul. British forces were again dispatched, and before the end of October they occupied Kabul. Yaʿqūb abdicated and was given exile in India, where he died in 1923.
- □ Mohammad Ali
□ Louis Dupree
□ Nancy Hatch Dupree
● ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khan (1880–1901):
The British finally withdrew from Kandahār in April 1881. In 1880 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khan, a cousin of Shīr ʿAlī, had returned from exile in Central Asia and proclaimed himself emir of Kabul. During the reign of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, the boundaries of modern Afghanistan were drawn by the British and the Russians. The Durand Line of 1893 divided zones of responsibility for the maintenance of law and order between British India and the kingdom of Afghanistan; it was never intended as a de jure international boundary. Afghanistan, therefore, although never dominated by a European imperial government, became a buffer between tsarist Russia and British India.
ʿAbd al-Raḥmān exerted his influence, if not actual control, over the various ethnolinguistic groups inside Afghanistan, fighting some 20 small wars to convince them that a strong central government existed in Kabul. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān was so successful that, at his death, his designated successor and eldest son, Ḥabībollāh Khan, succeeded to the throne as Ḥabībollāh I without the usual fratricidal fighting. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān can be considered the founder of modern Afghanistan.
● Ḥabībollāh Khan (1901–19):
The introduction of modern European technology begun by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān was furthered by Ḥabībollāh. Western ideals and styles penetrated the Afghan royal court and upper classes. An Afghan nationalist, Maḥmūd Beg Ṭarzī, published (1911–18) the periodical Serāj al-Akbār (“Torch of the News”), which had political influence far beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan.
Ḥabībollāh Khan visited British India in 1907 as guest of the viceroy of India, Gilbert Elliot, 4th earl of Minto. Impressed with British power, Ḥabībollāh resisted pressures from Ṭarzī, Amānollāh (Ḥabībollāh‘s third son, who had married Soraya, a daughter of Ṭarzī), and others to enter World War I on the side of the Central Powers. The peace ending World War I brought death to Ḥabībollāh; he was murdered on February 20, 1919, by persons associated with the anti-British movement, and Amānollāh seized power.
● Amānollāh (1919–29):
Amānollāh launched the inconclusive Third Anglo-Afghan War in May 1919. The month-long war gained the Afghans the conduct of their own foreign affairs. The Treaty of Rawalpindi was signed on August 8, 1919, and amended in 1921. Before signing the final document with the British, the Afghans concluded a treaty of friendship with the new Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union; Afghanistan thereby became one of the first states to recognize the Soviet government, and a “special relationship” evolved between the two governments that lasted until December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
Amānollāh changed his title from emir to pādshāh (“king”) in 1923 and inaugurated a decade of reforms—including implementing constitutional and administrative changes, allowing women to remove their veils, and establishing coeducational schools—that offended conservative religious and tribal leaders.
Civil war broke out in November 1928, and a Tajik folk hero called Bacheh Saqqāw (Bacheh-ye Saqqā; “Child of a Water Carrier”) occupied Kabul. Amānollāh abdicated in January 1929 in favour of his elder brother, Inayatollāh, but Bacheh Saqqāw proclaimed himself Ḥabībollāh Ghāzī (or Ḥabībollāh II), emir of Afghanistan. Amānollāh failed to retrieve his throne and went into exile in Italy. He died in 1960 in Zürich, Switzerland.
● Moḥammad Nāder Shah (1929–33):
Ḥabībollāh II was driven from the throne by Moḥammad Nāder Khan and his brothers, distant cousins of Amānollāh. On October 10, 1929, Ḥabībollāh II was executed along with 17 of his followers. A tribal assembly elected Nāder Khan as shah, and the opposition was bloodily persecuted.
Nāder Shah produced a new constitution in 1931 that was modeled on Amānollāh’s constitution of 1923 but was more conservatively oriented to appease Islamic religious leaders. The national economy developed in the 1930s under the leadership of several entrepreneurs who began small-scale industrial projects. Nāder Shah was assassinated on November 8, 1933, and the 19-year-old crown prince, Zahir, succeeded his father.
● Mohammad Zahir Shah (1933–73)
The first 20 years of Mohammad Zahir Shah’s reign were characterized by cautious policies of national consolidation, an expansion of foreign relations, and internal development using Afghan funds alone. World War II brought about a slowdown in development processes, but Afghanistan maintained its traditional neutrality. The “Pashtunistan” problem regarding the political status of those Pashtun living on the British (Pakistani) side of the Durand Line developed after the independence of Pakistan in 1947.
Shah Mahmud, prime minister from 1946 to 1953, sanctioned free elections and a relatively free press, and the so-called “liberal parliament” functioned from 1949 to 1952. Conservatives in government, however, encouraged by religious leaders, supported the seizure of power in 1953 by Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud Khan, brother-in-law and first cousin of the king.
Prime Minister Daud Khan (1953–63) took a stronger line on Pashtunistan, and, to the surprise of many, turned to the Soviet Union for economic and military assistance. The Soviets ultimately became Afghanistan’s major aid-and-trade partner. The Afghans refused to take sides in the Cold War, and Afghanistan became an “economic Korea,” testing the Western (particularly U.S.) will and capability to compete with the Soviet bloc in a nonaligned country. Daud Khan successfully introduced several far-reaching educational and social reforms, such as allowing women to wear the veil voluntarily and abolishing purdah (the practice of secluding women from public view), which theoretically increased the labour force by about half. The regime remained politically repressive, however, and tolerated no direct opposition.
The Pashtunistan issue precipitated Daud Khan’s downfall. In retaliation for Afghan agitation, Pakistan closed the border with Afghanistan in August 1961. Its prolonged closure led Afghanistan to depend increasingly on the Soviet Union for trade and in-transit facilities. To reverse the trend, Daud Khan resigned in March 1963, and the border was reopened in May. The Pashtunistan problem still existed, however.
Zahir Shah and his advisers instituted an experiment in constitutional monarchy. In 1964 a Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) approved a new constitution, under which the House of the People was to have 216 elected members and the House of the Elders was to have 84 members, one-third elected by the people, one-third appointed by the king, and one-third elected indirectly by new provincial assemblies.
Elections for both houses of the legislature were held in 1965 and 1969. Several unofficial parties ran candidates with platforms ranging from fundamentalist Islam to the extreme left. One such group was the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), the major leftist organization in the country. Founded in 1965, the party soon split into two factions, known as the People’s (Khalq) and Banner (Parcham) parties. Another was a conservative religious organization known as the Islamic Society (Jamʿiyyat-e Eslāmī), which was founded by a number of religiously minded individuals, including members of the University of Kabul faculty of religion, in 1971. The Islamists were highly influenced by the militant ideology of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and were ardently opposed to the power of leftist and secular elements in Afghanistan.
National politics became increasingly polarized, a situation reflected in the appointment by the king of five successive prime ministers between September 1965 and December 1972. The king refused to promulgate several key acts, thereby effectively blocking the institutionalization of the political processes guaranteed in the constitution. Struggles for power developed between the legislative and the executive branches, and an independent Supreme Court, as called for in the 1964 constitution, was never appointed.
Mohammad Daud Khan sensed the stagnation of the constitutional processes and seized power on July 17, 1973, in a virtually bloodless coup. Leftist military officers and civil servants of the Banner Party assisted in the overthrow, and a number of militant Islamists were forced to flee the country. Daud Khan abolished the constitution of 1964 and established the Republic of Afghanistan, with himself as chairman of the Central Committee of the Republic and prime minister.
● The Republic of Afghanistan (1973–78):
During Daud Khan’s second tenure as prime minister, he attempted to introduce socioeconomic reforms, to write a new constitution, and to effect a gradual movement away from the socialist ideals his regime initially espoused. Afghanistan broadened and intensified its relationships with other Muslim countries, trying to move away from its dependency on the Soviet Union and the United States. In addition, Daud Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister of Pakistan, reached tentative agreement on a solution to the Pashtunistan problem.
Daud Khan received approval in 1977 of his new constitution from a Loya Jirga, which wrote in several new articles and amended others. In March 1977 Daud Khan, then president of Afghanistan, appointed a new cabinet composed of sycophants, friends, sons of friends, and even collateral members of the royal family. The two PDPA organizations, the People’s and Banner parties, then reunited against Daud Khan after a 10-year separation. There followed a series of political assassinations, massive antigovernment demonstrations, and arrests of major leftist leaders. Before his arrest, Hafizullah Amin, a U.S.-educated People’s Party leader, contacted party members in the armed forces and devised a makeshift but successful coup. Daud Khan and most of his family were killed, and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was born on April 27, 1978.
● Civil war, communist phase (1978–92)
Nur Mohammad Taraki was elected president of the Revolutionary Council, prime minister of the country, and secretary-general of the combined PDPA. Babrak Karmal, a Banner leader, and Hafizullah Amin were elected deputy prime ministers. The leaders of the new government insisted that they were not controlled by the Soviet Union and proclaimed their policies to be based on Afghan nationalism, Islamic principles, socioeconomic justice, nonalignment in foreign affairs, and respect for all agreements and treaties signed by previous Afghan governments.
Unity between the People’s and Banner factions rapidly faded as the People’s Party emerged dominant, particularly because its major base of power was in the military. Karmal and other selected Banner leaders were sent abroad as ambassadors, and there were systematic purges of any Banner members or others who might oppose the regime.
The Taraki regime announced its programs, which included eliminating usury, ensuring equal rights for women, instituting land reforms, and making administrative decrees in classic Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. The people in the countryside, familiar with Marxist broadcasts from Soviet Central Asia, assumed that the People’s Party was communist and pro-Soviet. The reform programs—which threatened to undermine basic Afghan cultural patterns—and political repression antagonized large segments of the population, but major violent responses did not occur until the uprising in Nūrestān late in the summer of 1978. Other revolts, largely uncoordinated, spread throughout all of Afghanistan’s provinces, and periodic explosions rocked Kabul and other major cities. On February 14, 1979, U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed, and the elimination of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan was guaranteed.
Hafizullah Amin became prime minister on March 28, although Taraki retained his posts as president of the Revolutionary Council and secretary general of the PDPA. The expanding revolts in the countryside, however, continued, and the Afghan army collapsed. The Amin regime asked for and received more Soviet military aid.
Taraki was overthrown in mid September and, under orders from Amin, was killed three weeks later. In a plot hatched in Moscow, Amin was to have been removed, largely in the belief that he bore major responsibility for sparking the rebellion. But Amin learned of the plan and preempted his would-be assassins. Amin then tried to broaden his internal base of support and again to interest Pakistan and the United States in Afghan security. Despite his efforts, on the night of December 24, 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Amin and many of his followers were killed on December 27.
Babrak Karmal returned to Afghanistan from the Soviet Union and became prime minister, president of the Revolutionary Council, and secretary-general of the PDPA. Opposition to the Soviets and Karmal spread rapidly, urban demonstrations and violence increased, and resistance escalated in all regions. By early 1980 several regional groups, collectively known as mujahideen (from Arabic mujāhidūn, “those who engage in jihad”), had united inside Afghanistan, or across the border in Peshawar, Pakistan, to resist the Soviet invaders and the Soviet-backed Afghan army. Pakistan, along with the United States, China, and several European and Arab states—most notably Saudi Arabia—were soon providing small amounts of financial and military aid to the mujahideen. As this assistance grew, the Pakistani military’s Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI) assumed primary responsibility for funneling the money and weapons to Afghan resistance groups. Pakistani authorities were determined to exercise tight control over all such groups, and upwards of 40 separate resistance and refugee organizations coalesced, under Pakistani influence, around seven resistance parties. These parties, in turn, came together into two rival alliances, one dominated by traditional Islamic conservatives and the other by Islamic radicals. In 1985, under pressure from Pakistan and outside supporters, as well as from guerrilla commanders inside Afghanistan, these two alliances set aside their differences and formed a single coalition represented by a Supreme Council, which was responsible for making major decisions. Pakistan’s exclusion of secular groups from any role in the struggle fit the ideological temper of the military regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq—which played heavily on Islamic symbols for legitimacy—but also suited Pakistan’s determination that no aid would go to Afghan nationalists who might harbour long-standing territorial designs on Pakistan.
Recruits to the mujahideen came in large numbers from young Afghan men living in refugee camps in Pakistan. They were joined throughout the 1980s by thousands of volunteers from across the Muslim world, especially from Arab countries. (A young Saudi Arabian, Osama bin Laden, was among them, and, while he saw little military action, his personal wealth enabled him to fund high-profile mujahideen activities and gain a widely favourable reputation among his colleagues.) The bulk of the fighting was undertaken by small units that crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan and engaged mostly in brief hit-and-run operations. One of the most persistent and often most effective militant groups, however, was under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who instead fought the Soviets from a redoubt in the Panjanshīr River valley (commonly Panjshēr valley) northeast of Kabul. Massoud was among those commanders affiliated with the Islamic Society (one of the most influential mujahideen groups), then headed by an Azhar-trained scholar, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Among the other Peshawar-based parties were Abd al-Rasul Sayyaf’s militant Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan (Ettiḥād-e Eslāmī Barā-ye Āzād-e Afghānistān), which derived its support largely from foreign Islamic groups, and three parties headed by traditional religious leaders, including the most pragmatic of the mujahideen parties, the National Islamic Front (Maḥāz-e Mellī-ye Eslāmī), led by Ahmad Gailani. But the party receiving the most material support from the ISI was the extremist and virulently anti-American Islamic Party (Ḥezb-e Eslāmī; one of two parties by that name) loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Separate from the Peshawar front of Sunnite parties was an ethnic Shīʿite resistance group among the Ḥazāra, which received strong support from Iran.
Other than the Afghan fighters themselves, few had faith that the mujahideen could prevail in a military conflict with the Soviet Union. The movement’s Western sponsors viewed resistance operations as an opportunity to keep the Soviet army bogged down and to bleed Moscow economically. However, the mujahideen remained convinced that they ultimately would liberate their country from the foreign invaders. After years of bedevilment by the Soviet military’s use of helicopter gunships and jet bombers, the mujahideen’s prospects improved greatly toward the end of 1986 when they began to receive more and better weapons from the outside world—particularly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China—via Pakistan, the most important of these being shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles. The Soviet and Afghan air forces then began to suffer considerable casualties.
In May 1986 Mohammad Najibullah, former head of the secret police, replaced Karmal as secretary-general of the PDPA, and in November Karmal was relieved of all his government and party posts. Friction among the Banner and People’s parties continued. A national reconciliation campaign approved by the Politburo in September, which included a unilateral six-month cease-fire to begin in January 1987, met with little response inside Afghanistan and was rejected by resistance leaders in Pakistan.
In November 1987 a new constitution changed the name of the country back to the Republic of Afghanistan and allowed other political parties to participate in the government. Najibullah was elected to the newly strengthened post of president. Despite renewals of the official cease-fire, Afghan resistance to the Soviet presence continued, and the effects of the war were felt in neighbouring countries: Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran numbered more than five million. Morale in the Afghan military was low. Draftees deserted at the earliest opportunity, and the Afghan military dropped from its 1978 strength of 105,000 troops to about 20,000–30,000 by 1987. The Soviets attempted new tactics, but the resistance always devised countertactics.
During the 1980s, talks between the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan were held in Geneva under UN auspices, the primary stumbling blocks being the timetable for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the cessation of arms supplies to the mujahideen. Peace accords were finally signed in April 1988. Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev subsequently carried out an earlier promise to begin withdrawing Soviet troops in May of that year; troops began leaving as scheduled, and the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan in February 1989. The civil war continued, however, despite predictions of an early collapse of the Najibullah government following the withdrawal of the Soviets. The mujahideen formed an interim government in Pakistan, steadfastly resisting Najibullah’s reconciliation efforts, and disunity among the mujahideen parties contributed to their inability to dislodge the communist government.
- □ Louis Dupree
□ Nancy Hatch Dupree
□ Marvin G. Weinbaum
● Mujahideen-Taliban phase (1992–2001):
Najibullah was finally ousted from power in April 1992, soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union (which had continued to provide military and economic assistance to the Kabul government). A coalition built mainly of the mujahideen parties that had fought the communists set up a fragile interim government, but general peace and stability remained a distant hope. As rival militias vied for influence, interethnic tensions flared, and the economy lay in ruins.
Under an arrangement to provide for the rotation of the executive office between different factions, the presidency passed after two months from interim president Sebghatullah Mujaddedi to Burhanuddin Rabbani. Rabbani, however, refused to relinquish power to his successor after the expiration of his two-year term in office. Over the next three years, rocket attacks by opposition forces—primarily those of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Islamic Party—caused severe damage to large sections of the capital. Delivery of food from international aid organizations and the UN became indispensable.
Outside of Kabul, law and order broke down across much of the country, and Afghanistan became, in effect, a country ruled by militia leaders and warlords who exacted road taxes and transit fees from trucks engaged in cross-border trading and promoted extortion in most other areas of normal life. Kidnappings, whether for sadism or profit, were not uncommon, and the people generally fell into a state of despair.
Partly in response to this situation, the Taliban (Persian: “Students”) emerged in the fall of 1994. The movement’s spiritual and political leader was a former mujahideen fighter, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who was best known for his displays of piety and participation in the fight against the Soviet occupation. Drawing its recruits from madrasah (religious school) students in Pakistan and the southern province of Kandahār, the Taliban gained international attention when it was able to defeat those groups preying on the transit trade and when it succeeded in ridding Kandahār of its predatory and corrupt governors. The Taliban’s eventual success in extending its territorial control is largely attributable to the war-weariness of the Afghan people. In a short time others joined the students, including fighters formerly associated with the communists and a number of mujahideen defectors—many of whom were induced to switch sides by generous payments funded by the government of Saudi Arabia, then a major Taliban supporter.
The Taliban also won the early backing of senior Pakistani officials—including members of Pakistan’s ISI—who, along with companies involved in cross-border trading, were anxious to secure a road route through Afghanistan to markets in Central Asia. These same officials felt that the development of lucrative gas and oil pipelines from Central Asian fields to a Pakistani terminus would also be realized sooner were the Taliban to wrest full control of the country from other factions. Importantly, Taliban rule promised for Pakistan a pliant, friendly regime in Kabul, which contrasted with previous Afghan governments that often deflected Pakistani influence in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs through political overtures to India, Pakistan’s archrival. Despite the Taliban’s mostly Pashtun membership, the absence from their agenda of the familiar irredentist Pashtun claims against Pashtun regions of Pakistan—the Pashtunistan issue—made the Taliban a seemingly safe choice.
However, the Taliban’s initial appeal counted heavily on uniting those Pashtuns deeply resentful of the Rabbani government, which was dominated by ethnic Tajiks. Not until the Taliban ventured into areas of the country populated largely by non-Pashtuns could its wider popular acceptance be tested. Minority-dominated Herāt, Afghanistan’s third largest city, fell to Taliban fighters in September 1995, and a year later the Taliban captured multiethnic Kabul, setting to flight both antigovernment troops and those of Rabbani. The northern city of Mazār-e Sharīf, populated by many ethnic Uzbeks, fell in August 1998. By 2001 the Taliban’s power extended over more than nine-tenths of the country, and in most areas under its control the militia succeeded in disarming the local inhabitants. A loose coalition of mujahideen militias known as the Northern Alliance maintained control of a small section of northern Afghanistan. Fighters for the Northern Alliance, particularly those under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud, remained the only major obstacle to a final Taliban victory.
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates gave formal recognition to the Taliban government after the fall of Kabul, but the movement was denied Afghanistan’s seat at the UN and came under vigorous international criticism for its extreme views—with regard to women in particular—and its human rights record. Refusal by the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden, an Islamic extremist accused by the United States of planning violent acts and organizing a global terrorist network, led to UN sanctions against the regime in November 1999 and again in January 2001. The Taliban was also accused of harbouring and training militants—many of whom were holdovers from the war against the Soviets—planning insurgencies in the Central Asian republics and China. Iran objected to the treatment of the Shīʿite Muslim population and to the Taliban’s alleged association with groups that smuggled narcotics across the Iranian frontier. Pakistani authorities, although concerned about the possible ramifications of Islamic radicalism on their own society, continued to assist the Taliban economically and were given varying degrees of credit for aiding the Taliban in its military successes.
Fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance continued, and the international community made little headway toward inducing the combatants to observe a cease-fire or in convincing the Taliban to share power in a broadly representative national government. Though foreign humanitarian assistance to the Afghans continued, large-scale reconstruction was not addressed. Just as the commitment of international agencies and donors was uncertain, the capacity of Taliban leaders to manage a rebuilding effort remained questionable. The transition from a heavily criminalized domestic and regional economy—based on smuggling weapons and narcotics and the uncontrolled exploitation of Afghanistan’s natural resources—remained indispensable for the country’s rehabilitation and for a sustainable peace.
● Struggle for democracy:
Conditions continued to deteriorate in late 2001. Blame for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and a simultaneous attack on the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., on September 11 quickly centred on members of a Muslim extremist group, al-Qaeda, based in Afghanistan and headed by bin Laden. (See September 11 attacks.) The Taliban refused repeated U.S. demands to extradite bin Laden and his associates and to dismantle terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan. Within weeks of the attacks, the United States and Britain launched an intensive bombing campaign against the Taliban and provided significant logistical support to Northern Alliance forces in an attempt to force the regime to yield to its demands. Devastated by the U.S. bombardment, Taliban forces folded within days of a well-coordinated ground offensive launched in mid-November by Northern Alliance troops and U.S. special forces. On December 7 the Taliban surrendered Kandahār, the militia’s base of power and the last city under its control. At nearly the same time, representatives of several anti-Taliban groups met in Bonn, Germany, and, with the help of the international community, named an interim administration, which was installed two weeks later. This administration held power until June 2002 when a Loya Jirga was convened that selected a transitional government to rule the country until national elections could be held and a new constitution drafted. Democratic elections, in which women were granted the right to vote, were held in October 2004, and Hamid Karzai, leader of the transitional government, was elected president, winning 55 percent of the vote.
- □ Marvin G. Weinbaum
In March 2005 Karzai announced that legislative elections would be held later that year. Although al-Qaeda and Taliban elements had threatened to disrupt the elections, they took place on Sept. 18, 2005—the first time in more than 30 years that such elections were held—and in December the newly elected National Assembly convened its first session. Ongoing violence throughout 2005 increased steeply at year’s end and worsened considerably the following year as instability and warfare spread. Attacks and violent exchanges between the U.S.-led coalition and the Taliban forces became more frequent, particularly in the eastern and southern provinces, and casualties increased. In July 2006, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops replaced the U.S.-led coalition at the head of military operations in the south, and in October they also took command of the eastern provinces, thus assuming control of international military operations across the entire country. Fighting between NATO and Taliban forces continued, and civilian casualties remained high.
Opium production reached record levels within a few years of the ouster of the Taliban government, and by the mid-2000s it was estimated that Afghanistan produced more than nine-tenths of the world’s opiates. Complicating government efforts to curtail production was the fact that many segments of the population, including the Taliban and supporters of the central government, profited from opium production. Indeed, the Taliban derived a substantial income from the industry, using the proceeds to fund their insurgency.[*]
- Modern Afghanistan: Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 Communist counter-coup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan Communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-Communist mujahedin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Osama BIN LADIN. The UN-sponsored Bonn Conference in 2001 established a process for political reconstruction that included the adoption of a new constitution, a presidential election in 2004, and National Assembly elections in 2005. In December 2004, Hamid KARZAI became the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan and the National Assembly was inaugurated the following December. Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability - particularly in the south and the east - remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government.[*]