A Brief History of Afghanistan

prepared by Maziar Behrooz

(work in progress)


Current flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

General background:


Modern Afghanistan is a landlocked country about the size of state of Texas (250.000 sqm); 2/3 of the country is on highlands of above 5000 ft.


The population is involved mostly in agriculture or pastoral nomadic activities.  Its 20 million people is divided into 20+ ethnic groups; its main languages are Pashtun and Persian (Dari).


The name Afghan is an old one (from Sasanian period) and before modern times it was exclusively used to refer to the Pashtun (Pathan/Pukhtun) population of the region.


Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and are believed to be either of Indo-European origin or of Hun (Ephthalite) origin.  Pashtun language is related to Persian.


Pashtuns are overwhelmingly a tribal people.  There are two major tribal groupings among the Pashtuns who today live in south and south and south-east Afghanistan and north-east Pakistan.  These are: the Abdalis (later Durrani) and the Ghilzai. Abdalis historically reside mostly between Heart and Qandahar and the Ghilzai between Ghazni and Qandahar.  The two have historically been antagonistic toward each other.  


The second largest ethnic group is the Persians (also called Tajik) who are found in many parts of the country but are concentrated in Badakhshan, Kabul, Herat, Kohistan and Panjshir Valley.  They have become town people and have largely lost their tribal affiliation.  Historically, Persian language has been the language of cities and of administration in Afghanistan.  This is while Persian speakers were excluded from high military and administrative offices.  They played an important function as mid-level office holders and as tradesmen and artisans, all urban based occupations. 


The third largest ethnic group are people of Turko-Mongol origin concentrated in north of the Hindu-Kush mountain range.  A million plus are Uzbegs, others are Turkman and Kirkis, and most have become farmers and have largely lost their tribal affiliation.


Another ethnic group is the Hazara who reside in the isolated mountains of north-central Afghanistan around Bamyan (where the two giant statues of Buddha once stood).  The Hazara are of Mongol origin and arrived in the region as conquerors with the army of Chengiz Khan in 1200s (13th century).  In time, they became Imami Shi’as and began to exclusively speak in Persian.  They are sheep breaders and do menial work in the cities.  They are also despised by other Afghans both for racial and religious reasons.


Another ethnic group is the Nuris from Nuristan, formerly called Kafaristan located north-east of the country.  Nuris are people who have lived in an isolated region and who had converted to Islam rather late at the end of the 19th century. 


Before conversion, Nuris were called Kafar (infidel-therefore the name Kafaristan) by the rest of Moslem Afghanistan.  Their religion before

Islam was a combination of polytheism and ancestor worship.  Light skin, blue eye and blond or red hair is the feature of many Nuris. Their languages, there are several of them, derives from Aryan family of languages (Indo-European); so they maybe of Greek settlers’ background going back to the time of Alexander’s conquest of the region.  The Nuris are a tribal people with many similarities to the Pashtuns.


Other smaller groups are the Baluchis and the Qizilbash.




Majority are Sunni Moslems belonging to the Hanafi madhab.  There is a Shi’a Imami (12er) minority, particularly the Hazara, but also a smaller Shi’a isma’ilis (7er) community.


Two Sufi (Sunni) orders have followers among Afghans: Qaderiyya (Ahmad Gilani adheres to this) & Naqshbandiyya (Sebaghatullah Mujadidi adheres to this).


The Qaderiyya Order was founded in Baghdad in the 14th century and became popular in Eastern Afghanistan among Pashtuns in the 19th century.


The Naqshbandiyya Order was founded in Bukhara in the 14th century and became popular in Eastern Afghanistan and Central Asia.  The Naqshbandiyya Order became involved in politics in the late 19th century and opposed foreign influence.  In the late and early 20th centuries, several Sufi masters (pirs) led uprisings against the UK with substantial followings.

In 1219, the region was overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, who devastated the land. Their rule continued with the Il-khanates, and was extended further following the invasion of Timur Lang (1336-1405), a ruler from Central Asia.


Timurid Rulers after Amir Timur:


Shahrokh (r.1405-1447) was Timur’s 4th son

Ulugh Beg (r.1447-1449) son of Shahrokh


In 1504, Babur, a descendant of both Amir Timur Lang and Genghis Khan, established the Mughal Empire with its capital at Kabul. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Mughals exercised a loose control over Kabul and Peshawar while the Safavids controlled western Afghanistan (Heart) and the two fought over Qandahar.  The northern part of Afghanistan was at some historical points controlled by the Uzbegs.


Afshar and Durrani Period (1700s):


In 1709, Mirwais Khan Hotaki, a local Afghan (Pashtun) from the Ghilzai clan, overthrew and killed Gurgin Khan, the Safavid governor of Qandahar (Kandahar).


Mirwais Khan successfully defeated the Safavids, who were attempting to convert the local population of Kandahar from Sunni to Shia sect of Islam. Mirwais held the region of Kandahar until his death in 1715 and was succeeded by his son Mir Mahmud Hotaki.


In 1722, Mir Mahmud led an Afghan army to Isfahan, sacked the city and proclaimed himself shah. However, the great majority still rejected the Afghan regime as usurping, and after the massacre of thousands of civilians in Isfahan by the Afghans (including more than three thousand religious scholars, nobles, and members of the Safavid family)

Mir Mahmud, who had begun to lose his mental faculty, was removed and killed by his cousin Ashraf who was in turn defeated by Nader Shah Afshar in 1729 removing the Hotaki dynasty.


Meanwhile, the Abdali tribes had taken over Herat (1716) but were defeated by Nader in 1732.  Nader Shah took the Abdalis into his army as he considered Pashtun Sunni tribesmen better soldiers.  Abdalis acted as Nader’s personal bodyguards.


In 1738, Nadir Shah and his army, which included four thousand Pashtuns of the Abdali clan, conquered the region of Kandahar; in the same year he occupied Ghazni, Kabul and Lahore.


On June 19, 1747, Nadir Shah was assassinated (possibly planned by his nephew Ali Qoli). The leader of Nader’s Abdali bodyguards was a young man captured by Nader a few years earlier named Ahmad Khan Abdali of the Saddozai clan.  Upon Nader’s death, his army disintegrated.  Ahmad Khan and his followers took possession of parts of Nader’s treasure and fought their way back to Qandahar.


In Qandahar, Ahmad Khan called for a loya jirga (tribal council) of 9 Abdali sub-tribes.  He was then elected Padeshah Dorr-e Dowran (shah pearl of the age), hence the name Dorrani henceforth for the Abdali tribe. After the inauguration, he changed his title or clans' name to "Dorrani", which derives from the Persian word Dorr, meaning "Pearl".

Since then, Ahmad Shah Dorrani is regarded as the founder of modern Afghanistan.


Ahmad Shah Dorrani (r. 1748-1774)


He proved to be a capable ruler.  With part of Nader’s treasure in his possession (e.g. Kuh-e Nur or the Mount of Light) and while Iran was in chaos following Nader’s assassination, Ahmad Shah began to establish his Afghan based empire under Dorrani shahs.  At its fullest extent, it included parts of eastern Iran, parts of modern Pakistan and India as well as modern Afghanistan.  By 1751, Lahore in west Punjab and Kashmir were captured; in 1756, Delhi was sacked.


In October 1772, Ahmad Shah retired to his home in Qandahar, where he died peacefully at fifty. He is berried in Qandahar.  He was a religious man, a competent military leader, a good diplomat, and a popular leader. 


His followers were warriors not governors or administrators.  This meant that his empire was left in a state of insecurity and began to disintegrate after his death.  His Sadozai clan ruled until 1818 and a different sub-tribe ruled Afghanistan until 1978.


Ahmad Shah was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah Durrani (r. 1771-93), who transferred the capital from Kandahar to Kabul. Timur died in 1793 and was finally succeeded by his son Zaman Shah Durrani (1793-1818).


In 1819, Fateh Khan was blinded and killed in Kabul and AFGHANISTAN entered a period of civil war and chaos.  Sons of Timur Shah struggled for the Afghan throne.


In the Qandahar region, the so called “Dil Sardars” took charge of the region (named after Qandahar two brothers Pordel Khan and Shirdel Khan). 


In Peshawar, the “Peshawar Sardars” took control while the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh (d.1839) took over Kashmir.


Finally, Doust Muhammad Khan (Dorrani-Barakzai) became supreme authority in Kabul (1826) with the help of Qizilbash of Kabul.  He was recognized as “Amir” in Kabul and Ghazni but had to accept the loss of Peshawar to the Sikhs.


Hence, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Barakzai clan had ascended to the AFGHANISTAN throne.


This is a century of many wars, both internal and external, for AFGHANISTAN.  Old powers like Iran and Mughal India stopped playing determining role in AFGHANISTAN and are replaced by Russian and British colonial and diplomatic interest.


[Left: Early Afghan state under Ahmad Shah Dorrani in late 1700s]

[For example in 1837, Muhammad Shah Qajar attempted to capture and hold Heart the most Persian of all AFGHANISTAN regions, with Russian encouragement.  But, in 1838, the UK attacked and captured Khark Island in the Persian Gulf and forced the shah to abandon his attempt.  This was a defeat for Iran but also one for Russian diplomacy.] 


AFGHANISTAN became part of the “great game” as the UK began to perceive Russia as the main threat to the crown of its colonial empire, India.  To preserve and protect India, the UK made it its policy to dominate AFGHANISTAN and turn it into a buffer zone, a forward position, against expanding Russian power.  In this context, three Anglo-Afghan wars were fought (1839-42, 1878-80, and lastly in 1919) and Afghanistan saw much of its territory and autonomy ceded to the United Kingdom.


The UK exercised a great deal of influence in AFGHANISTAN throughout the 19th century, and it was not until 1919 that Afghanistan re-gained complete independence over its foreign affairs.


During the period of British intervention in Afghanistan, ethnic Pashtun territories were divided by the Durand Line. This would lead to strained relations between Afghanistan and British India– and later the new state of Pakistan – over what came to be known as the Pashtunistan debate.

First Anglo Afghan War (1838-42):


In 1835, Lord Melbourne, the UK PM, appointed George Eder, later Earl of Auckland, governor-general of India.  Lord Auckland was distrustful of Amir Doust Muhammad due to his close relations with the Russians.  He decided to interfere in AFGHANISTAN’s internal affairs and topple DMK and replace him with Shah Shoja al-Mulk (Durrani-Sadozai) a puppet of UK.  Auckland had decided that in order to stop Russia, AFGHANISTAN must be taken and pacified.


In May 1838, Shoja signed a treaty with the UK and Ranjit Singh renouncing AFGHANISTAN's claim on Peshawar in return for putting him on AFGHAN throne.


It seems that the Indian office was convinced that the task would be an easy one and decided to committee British troops as Singh was not trusted.


Before the invasion, Auckland used propaganda (Simla Manifesto of Oct 1838) to blacken Doust’s reputation and justify the attack.


In Dec 1838, 20.000 man “Army of the Indus” set out for the invasion. It was accompanied by the Sikh army and counted on the support of the Sadozai clan of Shah Shoja.


It entered south-western AFGHANISTAN with much difficulty including starvation, and captured Qandahar on April 25, 1829—the Sardars had fled the city.


In July, the Army came upon Ghazni, heavily fortified and defended by the Amir’s son Haidar Khan.  After battle, the city was captured and Haidar arrested.


DMK fled to Hindu Kush and Shoja entered Kabul on August 7, 1829.  Shoja was unpopular and UK troops were needed to maintain his throne.  Two brigades were left in Kabul and a division maintained in Qandahar.


During winter of 1930-40, DMK’s attempt to make a comeback failed and he was arrested and sent to India.   


By 1840-41 all seemed secure for the UK; a number of Dorrani uprisings around Qandahar were suppressed; but Afghan resentment of foreign occupation grew.


On Nov 2 1841, the UK commander of Kabul (Burnes) was killed.  Then a small UK force leaving Ghazni was attacked and annihilated.  The Brits decided to retreat to Peshawar, starting with Kabul.  In Jan 1842 some 45,000 troops plus 12000 camp followers started the retreat.  The Army was confronted by Afghans on the Khaybar Pass and only six officers on horseback managed to escape with just one reaching India alive.  The UK sent a second “Army of Retribution” which captured Kabul again, and then retreated.  The total cost of this war for the UK was 20,000 solders dead plus an unknown number of camp followers in addition to 17 to 18 million pound sterling in cost.


DMK was back on Afghan throne with UK blessing.


During the second half of the 19th century, Afghanistan’s became even more of a pawn in great power rivalry.  By 1859, Brits had taken over Baluchistan making AFGHANISTAN a landlocked country.  By 1860s, the Russians were subduing the independent Moslem states in Central Asia and by 1873 had established fixed boarders on AFGHANISTAN’s north.


During the reign of the following Amirs, Afghanistan was turned into a protectorate of the UK.  The 2nd Anglo–Afghan War (1878-80) was started by the UK as a reaction to Russian advancements on AFGHANISTAN.  UK policy continued to be maintaining AFGHANISTAN as a buffer against Russian expansion.


Amir Shir Ali Khan (r.1863-78)

Amir Abd al-Ramhan Khan (r.1880-1901)

Amir Habiballah Khan (r.1901-1919)


When Amir Shir Ali, son of DMK, opened negotiations with the Russians, the UK started the war.  The war proved to be a fruitless one and it ended during the reign of ARK. ARK in turn was forced to sign an agreement accepting the Durand Line (1893) as the border between AFGHANISTAN and British Raj.


Amir Abd al-Rahman Khan was a shrewd man and a forceful ruler and was known and the “Iron Amir”.  He did much to diminish the power of warlike tribes and to promote a spirit of national unity.  By the time of his death in 1901, the internal affairs of AFGHANISTAN were stabilized and the country received substantial military and economic aid from the British Raj.


But the Durand Line had effectively separated southern Pashtunistan from the rest of AFGHANISTAN and the country’s foreign policy was in the hand of the UK.  For example, AFGHANISTAN had no ability to establish independent relations with other governments especially Russia.


During the reign of his son Amir Habiballah Khan the UK and Russia signed a treaty (1907) recognizing the buffer position of AFGHANISTAN and special rights for the UK to manage the foreign policy of AFGHANISTAN. 


Amir Habiballah’s reign was a period of relaxation of repression.  A person of influence in the Amir’s court was Mahmud Beg Tarzi who had spent time in Syria and was influenced by the “Young Turk” movement in the Ottoman Empire (This was a nationalist and reformist movement in the empire).  As a result, Tarzi had developed Pan-Islamic and nationalist views.  He was also impressed with progress in Japan and critical of AFGHANISTAN's traditionalists who resisted modernizing reform and change.  Also, he was a tutor to the Amir’s two sons Inyatallah and Amanallah, influencing both.

Under Tarzai’s influence, Habib’s reign witnessed two decades of peace accompanied by mild reforms in some urban areas of the country.  The building of Habibiyya high school (modeled on French lycee) plus a military academy and teachers training college are examples of reforms during this period.  These reforms provided the Afghan upper class with modern education and began to divide Afghan society into modern urban (minority) and traditional rural (often tribal) majority.  


Habiballah managed to keep AFGHANISTAN out of WW1 despite strong pro-German sentiments in AFGHANISTAN. He asked for independence from UK after the war, but the Brits hesitated and put the Amir in an awkward position.  He was assassinated in Feb. 1919 by those who were against his neutral policy in WW1 and his failure to secure AFGHANISTAN's independence.


Amir Amanallah Khan (1919-1929)


Feudalist Social Reform (1919-1929); the USSR renounced all Tsarist claims on Afghanistan, and within two years England, which completely controlled Afghanistan's foreign affairs, could not contain the nation's surging independence.

After a brief internal stuggle Amir Amanollah (after 1923, Padeshah Amanollah) was formerly crowned on Feb 27, 1919 as successor to his assassinated father.  He was a nationalist and reformer who wanted to gain complete independence from UK and possibly lead Moslems of India and recover the area between the Durand Line and the Indus river.  This at a time when the world was in turmoil following WW1, the Ottoman Empire had collapsed and Russia was faced with revolution and civil war and India with decease and famine.


Among Amanollah's first acts was to launch a war against England when it was weak from WWI and Indian revolts, in what was called the "Third Anglo-Afghan War"(1919).  The war did not go far and lasted only one month.  Afghans did not get the territory they wanted and had to accept the Durand Line, lost UK revenue and military aid.  Nevertheless, the UK was driven from Afghanistan [singing the Treaty of Rawalpinidi (Aug 8, 1919) to end the war] and AFGHANISTAN gained full independence which left the Amir a very popular man.


The Amir reached out to the USSR (he sent personal letters to Lenin expressing a desire for friendly relations.  But as the USSR tightened its grip on Central Asia (Khiva and Bukhara Khanates), Afghans supported the Khans and later the Basmachi rebellion, all of which were crushed by the Red Army.


Nevertheless, the USSR did renounce Tsarist colonial treaties with AFGHANISTAN and the two countries signed a treaty of friendship,



The Amir, the shah after 1923, was one of AFGHANISTAN’s most significant reformers.  Although modest in nature, his reforms eventually created a conservative backlash. 


--Between 1921 and 1927 a constitution was written and put into effect.  The Afghan constitutional monarchy was in the spirit of Turkish and Iranian secularism.  It tried to establish a secular framework within which the state and the monarchy could define the relationship between state and religion.  Amanollah struggled to usurp the domination of Shari'a (Islamic Law), administered by Muslim judges. He recognized that getting rid of these laws was impossible, and he thus wrote his laws to be compatible. Steps were taken to establish an independent judiciary and court system and to produce secular penal codes.


Modernists were against this compromise due to concessions made to the traditionalists and traditionalists were against it due to concessions made to modernists.


--Education was expanded and elementary education was decreed free and compulsory for all people — women included. He created professional training schools and three secondary schools for children to continue their studies.


Instruction in these schools was in a foreign language to prepare the children to continue their tertiary education abroad. Instructors were imported from abroad and new curricula were written.


--Amanollah enhanced the rights of women in the legal sphere.  He created the Family Code of 1921. It became illegal to marry children and in-breeding was also outlawed. The sale of women into a marriage, considered important economic transactions in the life of the tribe, were reformed, but not abolished. The price of the bride, wedding expenses, and dowries were limited. A widow was no longer "owned" by the husband's family.


In 1928, Queen Soraya, Amanollah's wife, lifted her veil in public — the first time an Afghan woman had ever done so. The lifting of the veil had been decreed into law shortly before, but it was not mandatory.


--A western style governmental system was established with fiscal financial methods playing a paramount role.


--Amanollah struck out to reduce the strength of the tribal aristocracy. He eliminated ranks, titles, and royal benefits -- and replaced them with a system of reward for work instead of reward for position.


--The shah changed the tax system: where once the tribes kept part of the revenue, now, official tax collectors were employed that took all taxes directly to the government.


He reformed the army — no longer abiding by the choices the tribal aristocracy made for "conscripts" — establishing instead a conscription lottery.


These measures on education met with economic problems (not enough teachers, books, etc), and strong opposition from the orthodox leaders as a result of co-ed schooling.


In 1924 a rebellion broke out in Khost after leading Muslims declared parts of the law were un-Islamic, including the penal code.  It was led by Mulla-ye Lang and lasted for 9 months.  It was brought under control with much difficulty and some compromise.  Tribal lashkars were raised to help the regular army. 


Religious judges were nevertheless still enraged, as their power remained weakened: only in minor crimes could they decide whichever punishment they deemed necessary — serious and major crimes (from murder to adultery to alcohol consumption, etc) had preset punishments.


During the Khost Rebellion, the ineffectiveness of the new army system was starkly revealed, and Amanollah had to return to the tribal levy system, which some tribes agreed to, so long as he stopped his reform process.


From December 1927 to July 1928, the shah took his grand tour around the world, noting the methods of Kemal Ataturk of Turkey and Reza Shah of Iran in modernizing their own nations.  He also visited India, Egypt, UK, USSR, France, Germany, and Italy.  He drove his newly purchased Rolls-Royce from Tehran to Kabul.


Upon his return from abroad, he stepped up his program of modernization.  He called a loya jirga of 1000 tribal leaders in Kabul and proposed to put AF on a fast track of modernization in order to catch up with the rest of the world.  He proposed a new more libral constitution.  (He humiliated the jirga by having its members wear western dress).


Among his reforms, the shah proposed:


--Monogamy for government employees   

--Minimum age for marriage

--More education for women

--Abolition of veil (pardah)

--Curtailment of ulama power

--Increased tax on land revenue

--Prolonging conscription from 2 to 3 years


Basically, the shah sought to create an elected parliament, and strengthen the position of women while weakening the power of the ulama. Believing that the Loya Jirgah would not accept modernization, he attacked their power by establishing educational requirements to be a cleric, reducing ulama subsides and seeking to replace them with graduates from law school.


When protest and petititons appeared in Kabul, the shah repressed then by executing the chief Qazi of Kabul and jailing others; the opposition called him a convert to Christianity and attacked Queen Sorayya for appearing in public without the veil and in western costume.


A tribal rebellion in the Khaybar region over taxation ignited a general rebellion against the shah.  The rebels soon captured Jajaabad.


A second revolt (Dec 1928) broke out in Kuh-e Daman (north of Kabul)nled by a Persian speaker (Tajik) named Habiballah Kalankani better know as Bacha Saqa (He was a kind of a Robin Hood figure).  The rebelles captured Kabul in early 1929 ending Amanallah’s reign.  He abdicated (Jan 14 1929) in favor of his half brother, Inyatallah, fled the country in his Rolls and settled in Italy where he died in 1960.



Bacha ruled only for 9 months over Kabul; this was a period of anarchy, pillage and terror for the Afghan capital.

Bacha rolled back Amanallah’s reforms and relied on the ulama for legitimacy; to raised money, the rich were plundered and killed.  His biggest problem was that as a Persian from humble origins, his rule was unacceptable to the Pashtun tribes.

Meanwhile in March 1929, four brothers from the royal family (Muhammad Nader,Hashem, Shah Wali, and Shah Mahmud) who were opponents of Amanallah and were living in exile in southern France, made their way back to AF.  By Oct 1929, under Nader, they had raises a tribal lashkar from among Pashtuns on the Indian side of the border.  IN the same month Kabul was captured and Bacha executed.  Kabul was looted by Nader’s tribal followers and he was put on the throne by a loya jirga.

Nader Shah (1929-33):

Shah Mohammad Nader ruled for only four years, setting the tone of a return to orthodox Islam.  He used his tribal power to put down challenges to his rule, including a few pro-Amanallah rebellions.  He moved to appease the ulama by cancelling some key components of Amanallah’s reforms which included:


--Return of Shari’a based courts

--Cancellation of laws empowering women and return of veil

--A new constitution (1931) based on Amanallah’s version which was to alst for the next 30 years.  The new constitution included elements of a democratic system and envisioned a bi-cameral parliament


But real power remained in the hand of Nader Shah and his brothers.  Nader maintained friendly relations with UK and USSR while remaining neutral from both.


In June 1931 he signed a treaty of neutrality and non-aggression with the USSR.


From the UK he received some military aid and subsidy of 175,000 pounds.  He kept AF out of the affaires of British Raj’s Pashtun region.


His brief reign witnesses a relative period of stability and even promotion of some industrial projects in AF.  During this period cotton became an important export crop.  A central back was established and first modern roads were built.  The army was also enlarged and became more professional.


Muhammad Nader Shah was assassinated in Nov 1933 by a supporter of one of his tribal enemies.


Muhammad Zaher Shah (r.1933-1973):


In 1933, Nader’s 19 year old son Mohammad Zaher became the shah of AF.  His reign witnesses the longest period of stability in Afghanistan.


The first 20 years of his reign was under the influence of his paternal uncles; this was a period of continuity of peace and stability and modest progress.  This was done by doing nothing to antagonize religious and tribal traditionalists and limiting reforms to what was possible and but just desired.


Hence, economic development continued on a modest pace but Afghanistan’s economy remained predominantly agrarian.


During this period AF joined the Leagues of Nations (1934), and stayed out of tribal politics both internally and externally.


In the 1930s, AF turned to Italy, Germany and Japan (traditionally non-colonial powers in AF) for technical, economic and educational aid.  As a result, many upper class Afghans became pro-German.  Education was expanded with foreign help though it remained a service available to the elite.



During WW2, Afghanistan maintained strict neutrality despite pro-German sentiments among its elite.  In 1941, a loya jirga announced the new policy.  In Oct 1941 the UK and USSR delivered parallel ultimatums to the Afghan government demanding expulsion of Italian and German (200) advisors.  This created much resentment among Afghans but the government had no choice but to accept as Iran was occupied that summer for not complying.



After WW2, Afghanistan had to deal with two major foreign policy issues which reflected heavily on its internal development.  These were the emergence of the Cold War and the USSR as a super power on Afghanistan’s border and the birth of Pakistan (1947) and its inheritance of the Pashtun region.


In July 1947, the UK held a referendum in its North West Frontier province (NWFP), i.e. Pashtunistan, and asked whether it wanted to joint Pakistan or India, no mention was of independence or Afghanistan.  The NWFP voted to joint Pakistan creating resentment in Afghanistan which became the only country to vote against the admission of Pakistan to the UN.


In September 1953, Zaher Shah asked his paternal cousin, brother-in law, and friend, Prince Muhammad Daoud Khan, to become Afghan PM.  Daoud would take the helm of government with a new agenda and would dominate Afghan politics for the next 10 years. 


Daoud was an autocratic ruler who did not care much for liberal politics.  He preferred Afghanistan to be close to the US within the context of Cold War, but in the absence of US interest, he was willing to get close to the USSR to get what he needed.  Communism did not concern him much as he viewed the tribal and conservative nature of Afghan society as non-receptive to communism.  His agenda was as follows:


--Foster economic development with the aid of the West but if not, then the USSR.

--Pursuit of Pashtunistan policy.


Afghanistan under Daoud Khan turned to the USSR for economic and military aid.  Stronger ties are built with the Soviet Union, including extensive bilateral trade agreements. Soviet economic and military advisers are a constant feature in Afghanistan. The Soviets build much of Afghanistan's road network and airfields.


Post-Stalin USSR’s foreign policy was based on strengthening of economic relations with the 3rd world.  In Afghanistan, this policy coincided with a lack of US interest in Afghanistan.  The US backed Pakistan as its regional ally and demanded that Afghanistan join regional military pacts.  Crisis in Afghan-Pakistan relations and US support for Pakistan played an important role in causing closer relations with the USSR.


In 1954-55, Daoud was rebuffed by the Americans when he asked for military aid and turned to the Soviets.  By the end of 1950s, the USSR was providing much of Afghanistan’s military hardware and had turned the country militarily dependent on the USSR. 


In this context, many Soviet military and economic advisors took residence in the country and many Afghan military officers were sent to the USSR for training.


The USSR supplemented its military aid with generous economic aid and in 1955 declared its support for Afghan policy and claim on Pashtunistan. Eastern Block countries contributed to Afghanistan’s developmental progress.  They paved the streets of Kabul, established the first modern bakery in the city and did all these at bargain prices based on barter.  


In 1955 Khruschev and Bulganin visited Afghanistan and announced a 100 million dollar credit line at 2% interest for 30 years and developmental projects such as the Bagram airbase and Kabul to Soviet border road.


The American reaction to closer Afghan-Soviet relations was a adoption of a policy to prevent Afghanistan from falling in the Soviet sphere of influence.  The Americans began to provide Afghanistan with non-military aid in education and economy.  Roads were built (Kabul-Qandahar and Heart-Iran) the Ariana national airline (with Pan-American Airline) was developed and the Qandahar International Airport was built.


In the 1960s, Afghanistan under Daoud Khan had established an international reputation as a non-aligned nation; economic progress elevated standard of living in urban areas and provided economic opportunity for women.


In August 1961 a crisis erupted in Afghan-Pakistan relations over Pashtunistan.  Pakistan under Gen. Ayub Khan closed the border which began to damage Afghan economy but benefited the Soviets as it moved in with supplies via a massive air lift.


Afghan government depended on custom dues (and not taxes) for the bulk of its income and border closing began to hurt Afghan economy to crisis point resulting into March 1963 resignation of Daoud Khan.  The king has also been under pressure by the Americans to dismiss him. Other reasons for the fall of Daoud were: his educational and economic reforms had led to creation of an educated middle class which resented the PM’s autocratic style.


Hence, crisis with Pakistan gave the king to remove his powerful PM and cousin and, in 1964, moved to create a constitutional monarchy.


Work on the constitution began in 1963.  In Sep. 1964, a loya jirga (tribal council) of 452 members (including 4 women), which was broadly “representative” of the population, was elected and to ratify the document.  The constitution was signed into law by the king ion Oct. 1 1964.  The constitution stipulated, among other things:


--Members of the royal family were barred from holding office (this was to prevent a comeback by Daoud).

--Many secular laws were adopted within an overall Sharia’ legal system.

-- A bi-cameral parliament (shora) was to be elected.  A lower house (Wolesi jiga) with 219 members and an upper house (Meshrano jirga), partly elected and partly appointed by the king.

--The problem of political parties and provincial and municipal councils were differed to the future.


Meanwhile, in the 1960s a student movement appeared in the modern educational sector of Afghanistan.  The movement had grievances related to lack of jobs and political freedoms.  In Oct 1965 student demonstrations were met with repression and the army opened fire killing a number of students and radicalizing the movement.


Out of the radicalized student movement the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA-Communist Party) was established. 


The party had pro-Soviet leaning from the beginning and was dominated by a number of men who would became leaders of Afghanistan.  These were: Nur Muhammad Taraki (1917-1978) a teacher who had received modern university education from humble origins; Hafizallah Amin (1929-1979) an American educated Ph.D. and another teacher; Babrak Karmal (b.1929), son of a Major General and from an upper class background.


IN 1966, the PDPD split into two competing groups over personal (particularly between Taraki and Karmal) and social class differences and over strategy. 


The Parcham (flag) faction under Karmal advocated a moderate approach to social change; it advocated working within the Afghan social and political system for gradual change, recognizing the authority of the king.  It was also more open to allowing other ethnic groups, particularly Persians (Tajiks) joining its ranks.


Tha Khallq (people) faction under Taraki, was more radical and anti-establishment, and more Pashtun in outlook and more.


Other leftist groups of this period were two pro-China Maoist groups called Sho’leh Jawid and Setam-e Melli.


Islamic groups also began to organize politically on a religious agenda.  Islamic parties of Afghanistan would play an important role in fighting Soviet occupation and ruling the country in the 1990s and to the present.  There were two categories of political parties: first, those parties which may be called “traditionalists” and which were associated with known religious families.  One such radical or extremist oppositional group was organized around the prominent Mojadedi family.  A more moderate or centrist Islamic political party organized around the Maiwandwal family.  Secondly, there was the Afghan version of Moslem Brotherhood which attracted younger, more educated activists.  When the A-MB was suppressed by Daoud Khan (see below) in 1974, its members fled the country.  Two members of the Moslem Brotherhood fled to Pakistan: Golb al-Din Hekmatyar, a Pashtun and a student member who established Hezb-e Islami in Peshawar (1974); Burhan al-Din Rabbani, a Persian and a university lecturer who established Jamiat-e Islami.  Both of these were confined to Peshawar and Rabbani’s group was supported by another Tajik and student named Ahmad Shah Mas’ud, who operated from the Panjshir Valley in the north and who will be kwon as Shir-e Panjshir (the lion of Panjshir) in the 1990s.


In the 1970s the economic situation in Afghanistan deteriorated and conflict between religious and leftist groups grew.


On July 17, 1973 Daoud Khan staged a coup and ousted the king and declared a republic.  He was supported by Karmal and the parcham faction.  In 1974, Parcham was purged from Daoud government and the government moved against the Afghan Moslem Brotherhood. 


Meanwhile, Daoud opportunistically attempts to get aid from both the USSR and Western countries; socialists and religious radicals, oppose his policies. Daoud Khan became more conservative and repressive and began to put his supporters in key positions.


In 1978, Daoud attempted to imprison members of PDPA.  The party, which had followers in the military, fought back and stage a coup on April 27, 1978 (the Great Saur “Revolution”).  Daoud Khan and his entire family were murdered.


The Great Saur “Revolution”:


Nur Muhammad Taraki becomes president of the new Republic on 27 April 1978, and proclaims the nation "socialist".  Taraki immediately signed a treaty of friendship with the USSR and announces 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 begin an armed revolt. By the summer of 1979, the rebels begin receiving massive military aid from the United States


US policy toward Afghanistan was part of its overall policy during the Cold War and was about how to confront the USSR.  Accordingly, under President Jimmy Carter and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski the US began to covertly fund and train anti-government Mujahidin forces through the Pakistani secret service agency known as Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), who were derived from discontented Muslims in the country that opposed the official atheism of the Marxist regime.


Opposition against communist rule was accompanied by intense internal conflict within the PDPA.  By the summer of 1979, the Khalq faction had already neutralized the Parcham faction.  By summer, factional dispute centered within the Khalq around Taraki and Hafizallah Amin.  As radical and provocative as communist reforms were to the traditional segments of Afghan society, Amin argued for more radical reforms and a faster pace. Summer of 1979 was a time when rebellions were occurring all over the country and the Afghan army was finding it difficult to respond effectively. 


Taraki stood for moderation and coordination with the USSR as the situation on the ground seemed to get out of hand.  In September, 1979 Amin and his supporteds within the PDPA rebelled against Taraki and staged a coup.  Taraki was deposed and later assassinated, at a time when the Mujahedin had established firm control over most of the countryside.


Amin tried vigorously to suppress the rebellion with massive used of repression and resisted Soviet efforts to make him moderate his policies. By December 1979, Amin’s position was untenable and his government was on the verge of collapse.  The choice for the Soviet government under Leonid Brezhnev had become either allowing Afghanistan to slip into the hands of its Cold War rival or to intervene to save the situation with or without Afghan government’s approval.  On December 25, 1979, Soviet forces invaded. The Soviets quickly won control of Kabul storming the Presidential Palace, and other important cities. The Soviets executed Amin on December 27 and installed Babrak Karmal, leader of PDPA's Parcham faction, as president.


The USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan was done under the pretext of the 1978 Treaty of Friendship and, ironically, at the “request” of Amin’s government whom the Soviets moved to topple and kill its president.


Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989) was maintained by, between 110,000 to 150,000 Soviet troops supplemented by 100,000 or so pro-communist Afghan national army troops.


Soviet occupation resulted in a mass exodus of over 5 million Afghans that moved into refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan, Iran and other countries. More than 3 million settled in Pakistan, over a million in Iran and many others in different countries of the world.


Afghanistan became to the USSR what Vietnam was to the US, an open ended war which drained the Soviet economy and resources.  With a new leadership in Moscow under reform minded President Mikhael Gorbachev, the USSR began to contemplate cutting its losses in Afghanistan. 


Faced with mounting international pressure and the loss of over 15,000 Soviet soldiers as a result of Mujahideen opposition forces trained by the United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments the USSR decided to disengage. The Soviet withdrawal was agreed to in April 1988; the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.


Exact casualties of Afghanis are unknown. General estimates for all sides — the government, the rebels, and civilians — are around 1.3 million people. There were over 642,000 Soviet soldiers (mostly from the Soviet 40th Army) who served in the war. The Soviet military lost 14,453 soldiers (of which 13,833 were from the Army). 53,753 soldiers were wounded, while of those 10,751 were invalided because of the war. 415,932 were sick at some point in their duty (the most serious ailments being hepatitis (115,308) and typhoid fever (31,080)).


From February 1989 the pro-Soviet government of president Mohammad Najibullah (formerly the head of the secret service, KHAD) continued to fight the Mujahidin on it's own.


The USSR continued to support President Najiballah until its own downfall in December 1991.  The US shuts off all contact with the Mujahedin after Soviet withdrawal.


After three years of battle, the Mujahedin finally defeated the Najb government on April 15, 1992. The Mujahidin refuse, however, to allow any other ethnic tribe to control the nation, and fierce genocidal fighting breaks out among themselves — between the Pashtun, Tajiks, Uzbegs, Hazaras and Turkmen.


Afghanistan under Mujahedin (1992-1996):


Fighting continued among the various Mujahideen factions, eventually giving rise to a state of rule by warlords. Kabul remained under a Sunni-Persian (Tajik) coalition led by President Rabbani (and his Jam’iyat-e Islami) and his defense minister Mas’ud.  Their authority was challenged by various ethnic militias, the most important of which was led by Hekmatyar and his Hezbe- Islami. 


(<--Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, the Lion of Panjshir))


The new round of civil war between various Mujahedin factions further devastated the country and caused the vast majority of the elites, the educated and intellectuals to flee the country. 


The most serious fighting during this growing civil conflict occurred in 1994, when over 10,000 people were killed in Kabul.  The city which was spared the devastation of war during Soviet occupation was now reduced to rubbles.


Rise of Taliban (1994-2001):


The chaos and destruction of Mujahedin’s factional rule over Afghanistan and the international community’s total disengagement from the country, created the context for the rise f the Taliban.


The Taliban’s perception of Sunni Islam and Islamic government was brewed in the seminary schools of Peshawar during 1980s and 1990s.  It showed influence from two schools of religion predominant in the regions, namely, Saudi Wahhabism and Indian Deobandi Islam.


The Taliban rose to power in Qandahar wit the help of Pakistan and Saudi money (1994) and eventually seized Kabul in 1996.


In October, 1994, the Taliban movement is created among former Mujahideen (primarily Pashtun) with the support of Pakistan, winning their first territory of Qandahar.


In September, 1996, the Taliban secure Kabul, dragging the Socialist Najibullah and his brother having lived for four years in a United Nations compound, into the streets, hanging them from a traffic light.


In the following month, the Taliban enforce Sharia Islamic law in Kabul. All co-ed schooling is strictly forbidden, all girls schools are shut down and boarded up. Women are forced out of the work force entirely, and are stripped nearly all access to health care.


By the end of 2000, the Taliban were able to capture 95% of the country, aside from the opposition (Afghan Northern Alliance) strongholds primarily found in the northeast corner of Badakhshan


Read more:

Ahmad, Rashid. Taliban
Bradsher, Henry. Afghanistan and the Soviet Union
Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan: A Short History
Gohari, M.J. The Taliban Ascent to Power
Mangus, Ralph & Naby, Eden. Afghanistan