The long centuries of Afghanistan's history are hard to divide into clear-cut periods. In some centuries the area formed part of larger kingdoms or empires, in others the country spread beyond its present confines, and at nearly every stage local rulers controlled semi-independent regions within a larger framework. The following divisions may, however, be distinguished: the prehistoric period; the arrival and establishment of the Aryans after 2000 B.C.; the Achaemenid period, 6th to 4th centuries B.C.; the period of Greek rule, 4th century B.C. to 1st century A.D.; the Buddhist period, 1st to 7th centuries A.D.; and the Islamic era, which in turn is subdivided into a number of distinct periods.
Archaeological expeditions to Afghanistan have brought to light painted pottery of the 4th millennium B.C. It has been suggested that the region north of the Hindu Kush was one of the first to be settled by people who engaged in agriculture. The survival of more than 70 varieties of wheat in the country supports this assumption. The ethnic characteristics of this aboriginal people are unknown.
About 2000 B.C., at the height of the Bronze Age, groups of the Indo-Aryan subdivision of the Aryans drifted south across the Oxus River. Some of these people settled in Bakhdi, the classical Bactria, while others moved to the Iranian plateau or to the Indus Basin. Their language was Indo-European, and their religion has survived in the hymns and prayers of the Rig Veda, which gives place names identifiable with the sites in Afghanistan. Bakhdi was the home of the prophet Zoroaster.
The empire of the Achaemenids rose in southern Iran in the mid-6th century B.C.. It extended its control over the area north of the Hindu Kush, the Kabul Valley, and the region from Kandahar to the Indus. Gold and silver coins of the Achaemenids have been found in Afghanistan, as well as a fabulous hoard of jewelry known as the treasure of the Oxus, which was found along that river in 1877 and is on display in the British Museum.
Alexander the Great marched east from the Mediterranean to overcome the Achaemenids in their homeland in 330 B.C. and pushed on into Aryana, where he founded the town of Alexandria Ariorum at or near the site of modern Herat. His route led through Kandahar and Ghazni and then across the Hindu Kush into Bactria. After founding a number of new towns with Greek colonists, he retraced his steps to the Kabul Valley and proceeded to the Indus. Following his death in 323, the present areas of Iran and Afghanistan fell to the Seleucid monarchy. Seleucus I Nicator established his hold over Bactria in 311 B.C., while (about 304) yielding areas south and east of the Hindu Kush to Chandragupta of the Indian Maurya dynasty.
In about 250 B.C., Diodotus I, Greek satrap of the Seleucids, asserted the independence of Bactria and founded a line of 29 kings and 3 queens of the so-called Graeco-Bactrian kingdom. For a time these rulers were able to stave off invasions by tribal peoples from the north, but they could not withstand the successive waves of the Parthians, a Saka tribe, and the Yüeh-chih (Yuechi). By about 140 B.C. the Yüeh-chih had swarmed across the Oxus. While monumental remains of the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom have not been found, unmistakable Greek influence is apparent in the art of the succeeding period.
After the Yüeh-chih settled in Bactria, one of its five clans, the Kushanas, gained supremacy. It produced two dynasties, the Kadphises and the Kanishkas. King Kanishka (1st or 2d century A.D.), the founder and outstanding figure of his line, was a pious Buddhist responsible for codifying the principles of the Mah#y#na division of the faith. Later Kushana rulers were subservient to the Sassanid kings of Iran, and in the 5th and 6th centuries White Huns (Ephthalites) and Turkic tribesmen moved into the area. A local dynasty, variously known as Shahiya, or Ratbil, erected Buddhist monuments in the Kabul Valley in the 6th and 7th centuries.
Despite the upheavals of this period, trade flourished along the caravan route from Antioch on the Mediterranean to Bactria, Kapisa, Hadda, and Peshawar, while a northern branch of the route ran from Bactria toward China. A transplanted Buddhist culture reached a high level of spiritual and artistic achievement in Gandhara, as the region from the Kabul Valley to the Indus was then known, and the style of its monuments, painting, and sculpture is called Graeco-Buddhist Gandharan art. At Hadda, six miles south of Jalalabad, are several stupas and monasteries. Of many ancient sites near Kabul, the most notable is Kapisa, modern Bagram (Begram).
The rise of Islam in the 7th century altered the structure of the ancient world and resulted in the disappearance of powerful kingdoms. In 652 an Arab army invaded Afghanistan, and not long afterward the people throughout the area were converted to Islam. The first invasion did not end in conquest, but in 706–709 the Arabs overran Aryana. Local dynasties, which acknowledged the religious and temporal authority of the caliph at Baghdad, came into being. The Taharids (Tahirids) were lords of Khurasan and Herat from 820 to 872. In 867, Yaqub ibn Layth as-Saffar, a coppersmith who had become a military governor of the Taharids, set up an independent realm which included most of the area of modern Afghanistan, but the Saffarid line ended with the death of his brother in 902. Next to rise were the Samanids (874–999), with Ismail (reigned 892–907) the outstanding figure of this line. The Samanid capital of Bukhara was a seat of learning. Here modern Persian literature began with the poets Rudaki (Rudagi; died 954) and Daqiqi (Dakiki; died 952). The renowned philosopher ibn Sina (980–1037), known to the Western world as Avicenna, also began his career at the court. Turkish tribesmen formed the guard of the rulers, and in their turn became the masters.
Alptigin (Alptegin), a Turkish officer of the Samanids, founded the Ghaznavid dynasty in 962. Nine rulers of this line, most of them unrelated to each other, controlled a vast area from their capital in Ghazni. Mahmud, who came to the throne in 999, was the greatest of the line, conducting 17 campaigns against the Hindus and amassing vast treasures. Four hundred poets and many scientists and historians resided at Ghazni. Most of the other Ghaznavid rulers held power briefly, struggling with diminishing success against the expansion of the Seljuks, a Turkish tribe.
As the power of the Ghaznavids waned, isolated groups in the heart of the Koh-i-Baba gained strength. The heads of the Tajik Souri tribe, centered at Ghor (Ghur), established the Shansabanid dynasty at Bamiyan, while Ala-ud-Din, the leader of another branch of this line, centered at Firozkoh (Firuzkuh), captured and burned Ghazni in 1151. This Ghurid dynasty controlled Afghanistan until the early 13th century, and its rulers conducted several campaigns against India. Turkic viceroys of the Ghurids founded the sultanate at Delhi. Only a few mosques and shrines of the Ghurid period have survived in Afghanistan, notably at Chisht, east of Herat.
In 1219, Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan (Temujin) invaded the valley of the Amu Darya and then moved on to wipe out Bamiyan, Balkh, and Herat. Afghan historians insist that the country never fully recovered from the wholesale destruction of these years. Under a Mongol line, the Il-Khanids, who ruled in Persia from 1260 to the mid-14th century, Afghanistan was a provincial holding of little interest and importance. The indigenous Kert (Kurt) dynasty, a Tajik line related to the Ghurids, ruled at Herat as Mongol vassals during most of the 14th century.
Timur (Tamerlane), another in the long line of great Asian conquerors, was born of Turko-Mongol origin in 1336 near Samarkand (Samarqand). His campaign ranged almost to the Mediterranean on the west and into India on the east, and all of Afghanistan was under his control. On his death in 1405, his holdings were disputed by his family, and his fourth son, Shah Rukh (reigned 1405–1447), took over Afghanistan, with his capital at Herat. A cultured monarch, he made the city an intellectual center, graced by architects, painters, poets, musicians, and scholars. His eldest son and successor, Ulugh Beg (reigned 1447–1449), was a fine painter and poet who also furthered astronomy and mathematics. Finally, at the end of the 15th century, the Timurids gave way to the Shaybanids, a Tatar dynasty.
A descendant of Timur known as Babur (Baber; real name Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur), after struggling vainly against his Shaybanid cousins, moved south in 1504 to take over Kabul and Kandahar. In 1525–1527 he campaigned successfully in India and established a court at Agra that was to attain great splendor under his descendants, the Mughul (Mogul) emperors. His successors, rulers such as Humayun, Akbar, and Shah Jahan, were concerned not only with India but with retaining Kabul and Kandahar against the Safavid dynasty of Persia, which finally acquired the area in the mid-17th century.
Emergence of the Afghan State.
In 1709 the Afghan Ghilzais revolted at Kandahar, and by 1722 they had gathered sufficient strength to move against Kerman, Yezd, and Isfahan. The Safavid ruler, Shah Husein, then abdicated in favor of the Afghan leader, Mir Mahmud ibn-Mir Wais. The Persians rallied, however, and in 1729–1730 the Afghans were driven from Persia and Herat by Nadir Kuli (reigned 1736–1747), first ruler of the Afshar dynasty, who won over the Abdalis and Ghilzais and moved east to another invasion of India. On his death in 1747 the Afghans assembled at Kandahar and chose Ahmad Khan Sadozai as their shah. So began modern united Afghanistan. Ahmad Shah was obsessed by the vision of a union of Pushtu-speaking tribes under the rule of his tribe and family, and he changed the name of his tribe from Abdali to Durrani. His reign and those of his sons and grandsons were plagued by revolts of unruly chieftains, and the kingdom of the Sadozais came to an end in the first quarter of the 19th century.
In the 19th century, Afghanistan became a focal point of international conflict. While the Kajar (Qatar) rulers of Persia coveted Herat, of greater moment was the concern of the British to protect the approaches to India from the advance of the Russians. To stop the Russians, Britain brought pressure to bear on Afghanistan, which resulted in two Anglo-Afghan wars (1839–1842 and 1878–1880). British policy was aimed at establishing a defensive line well beyond the Indus, and in 1839 British forces, pushing into Afghanistan, took Kandahar and Kabul and supported Shah Shuja of the Sadozai line. Internal opposition led to the withdrawal of British troops toward Peshawar in 1842. En route they were set upon by the tribes, and almost all of them were slain. Although a British punitive force reoccupied Kabul, Britain decided upon a complete evacuation of Afghanistan, thus ending the First Afghan War late that year. The British then supported Dost Mohammed (reigned 1826–1863), a Barakzai, on the Afghan throne.
In 1878, British concern over negotiations between Dost Mohammed's son, Shir (Sher) Ali (reigned 1863–1878), and the Russians resulted in the Second Afghan War. This costly and futile conflict ended with the accession of Abdur Rahman Khan (reigned 1880–1901). A shrewd, forceful, and tireless ruler, he did much to diminish the power of the warlike tribes and to promote a spirit of national identity. Talks with the British in 1893 resulted in the Durand Line, which remains the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 1901 the throne passed to Abdur Rahman's son, Habibullah Khan, during whose reign Russia and Britain concluded (1907) a treaty that recognized the buffer position of Afghanistan and the special rights of the British in respect to its foreign relations. Despite internal and external pressures, Habibullah kept his country neutral in World War I.
Development of the Modern State.
Habibullah's son, Amanullah Khan (reigned 1919–1929), was resolved to bring Afghanistan abreast of the Western world. His determination that the country should be completely independent led to the brief and inconclusive Third Afghan War with Britain in 1919. By treaty, Britain then gave up its interest in Afghan foreign relations and discontinued its subsidies to the rulers. Amanullah's program of reforms included more efficient administration, the promulgation of the country's first constitution (1923), and steps taken to modernize the social structure. In 1927 he toured Europe and came back determined to work for universal education, separation of church and state, and emancipation of women. These plans outraged religious and tribal leaders, and in an atmosphere of widespread disaffection a former brigand called Bacha-i-Saqqa was able to seize Kabul in 1929. Amanullah abdicated and fled the country.
The brigand ascended the throne as Amir Habibullah, but powerful forces led by four brothers of the Mohammedzai family soon rose against him. One of the brothers took Kabul in October and was acclaimed as the new ruler, Nadir Shah Ghazi. Order was reestablished, a constitution was passed, and a series of sound measures undertaken, but an internal feud resulted in Nadir Shah's assassination in 1933.
His eldest son, Mohammed Zahir Shah, then 19, was proclaimed king, but in the following decades his uncles directed the destiny of the country, holding the major cabinet posts. Two first cousins of the ruler, Mohammed Daud and Mohammed Naim, were also cabinet members. During these years the government abandoned the traditional policy of isolation, and the first factories, motor roads, and irrigation and power projects were constructed. In World War II, Afghanistan maintained its neutrality, but inability to trade with foreign countries resulted in a strain on its finances. Mohammed Daud became premier in 1953, and for a decade government policy was directed by a triumvirate consisting of Mohammed Zahir Shah, Mohammed Daud, and Mohammed Naim as minister of foreign affairs.
In the late 1950s the shah began to institute social and political reforms and to broaden the base of authority of his government. In 1963 Premier Mohammed Daud resigned and the cabinet was replaced by one headed by Premier Mohammed Yusuf, the first nonroyal premier. Meanwhile, a new constitution was adopted in 1964; members of the royal family could no longer participate in politics, although the king retained substantial power. The legislature and executive were often at loggerheads, and the government functioned inefficiently.
On July 17, 1973, the king's cousin and former premier, Mohammed Daud, overthrew the monarchy with the help of the Soviet-trained Afghan Army and was named president and premier of the new republic. The abrogated 1964 constitution was replaced with another in 1977, which confirmed the presidential form of government in a one-party state. However, Daud's hold over the army that had backed his bid for power in 1973 weakened during 1977, and in April 1978 his government was overthrown in a military revolt and he was killed.
This “Great Saur Revolution” (April 27–28, 1978) led to the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (the 1977 constitution was annulled), with the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) the only legitimate party; its leader, Nur Mohammed Taraki, became president of the council and premier. The Soviet Union extended its support, and the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship in December 1978.
The newly established Marxist state was not popular with the Muslim tribal communities, and they revolted. To quell the rebellion, the Soviet Union provided arms and military advisers. There was also serious infighting in the PDPA, however, and in September 1979, Taraki was ousted from office and replaced by the premier, Hafizullah Amin. When Amin could not end the rebellion, the Soviet Union intervened and invaded Afghanistan with 30,000 troops in late December. Amin was executed, and the Soviets installed Babrak Karmal as president on Dec. 27, 1979. Afghan resistance to the Soviet intervention was widespread; it was met with the introduction of more Soviet troops, eventually numbering an estimated 115,000. In the face of the fighting, a flood of Afghan refugees sought sanctuary in Pakistan and Iran.
The rebel guerrillas, known as the mujahedin (“holy warriors”), were far from united. Guerrilla bands often represented fiercely independent tribes with long histories of mutual antagonism. Their main strength was in the countryside, while Afghan government forces and their Soviet allies concentrated on the larger towns and cities. Arms supplied mostly by the United States and China were funneled to the guerrillas through Pakistan, where their political leaders were based. Over time the power of the field commanders inside Afghanistan grew at the expense of that of their political leaders, tending to complicate the lines of guerrilla leadership still further. From the end of 1986, when a real Soviet desire to withdraw its troops became evident, the question of whether the guerrilla movement could provide a representative leadership capable of governing Afghanistan became increasingly acute.
For its part, while conducting the war, Karmal's elite Parcham (Flag) faction of the PDPA struggled for control with its Khalq (Masses) faction, which had dominated it before the Saur revolution. Various measures were taken to ensure the Parcham's grip on the party, including, in 1985, the introduction of a new constitution. But in May 1986, Karmal was outmaneuvered not by the Khalq but by fellow Parcham member Major General Najibullah, who became general secretary of the PDPA and later Afghanistan's president, gradually relieving Karmal of his posts. Attempts by Najibullah, the former head of the secret police, to draw the mujahedin into his “national reconciliation” failed. Another constitution, adopted in 1987, greatly increased Najibullah's power and renamed the country the Republic of Afghanistan. A UN-brokered agreement for Soviet withdrawal was reached in April 1988; the withdrawal was completed in February 1989. But the flow of arms to both sides and the continued divisions among the rebels kept the bloody civil war alive.
Najibullah remained in power until April 1992, when the mujahedin captured Kabul and proclaimed it an Islamic state. The mujahedin ruled the nation through several councils, including the Resolution and Settlement Council, which on Dec. 30, 1992, elected the Islamic State of Afghanistan's first president, Burhanuddin Rabbani. The mujahedin remained factionalized, however, and sporadic fighting continued. In March 1993 a peace accord was signed by Rabbani, his chief rival Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and other mujahedin factions. An 18-month interim government was established, with Rabbani as head of state and Hekmatyar as premier, but they proved unable to work together. By the end of 1994 the peace accord had collapsed, and the fighting between rival mujahedin forces escalated. At the same time another militant group, the Taliban, arose in southern Afghanistan, capturing the cities of Qandahar and Charasiab, former strongholds of Hekmatyar's forces. Defeated in their mid-1995 assault against Kabul, the Taliban continued their bombardments of the city, eventually taking it on Sept. 27, 1996, and establishing a new government for Afghanistan based on Islamic law. Although the Taliban hold the capital, northern northern provinces remain under the control of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ahmad Shah Massoud, who together formed a military alliance and planned to establish a rival government in northern Afghanistan.