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The history of Afghanistan is one of turbulence and tumult. The area of today’s country was inhabited already in the Iron Age, with the first inhabitants present here in the 3rd millennium BCE. However, the first written records which originated in today’s Afghanistan come from a much later historical period, from the time of the Achaemenian rule, which lasted over two centuries, between 6 and 4 BCE.
Iranian Achaemenians were not the only conquerors of Afghanistan. As their great Persian empire was defeated by the Greek invaders led by Alexander the Great, nothing could prevent them from advancing further to Asia and conquer Afghanistan as well. Alexander the Great and his successors knowns as Seleucids introduced Greek culture and tradition to the region.
Before Islam was introduced to Afghanistan, the region experienced not only the Greek pantheon, but also the Buddhist religious tradition. Mauryan Buddhist Empire from India occupied the area of today’s southern Afghanistan for over one hundred years before the nomadic peoples of Kushan Empire exploited the region for commerce. Iranian influence returned to the area with the rise of the Sassanids, who came to power in the 4th century. While Sassanids were very successful in their rule over Persia, they failed to unify the Afghan tribes, and therefore their power over them was rather nominal.
MUSLIM DYNASTIES IN POWER
The message of Islam reached Afghanistan in 642 A.D. when Arab armies invaded the region. They defeated the ruling Persians, and continued to control the area until the 10th century. Afghanistan was thus introduced to Islam which is continues to adhere to until these days. In 998, another Muslim dynasty rose to power in the region: Turkic Ghaznavids replaced the Arab conquerors, yet they were not as successful in unifying the Afghan land as they Arabs once were. After period of time, Mongols from the east invaded in 1219. While the Afghan local rulers attempted to rid their land of the eastern invaders, the Mongol hegemony was replaced by that of Tamerlane and his descendants in the 14th century, who made Afghanistan part of their vast empire.
18th century saw an attempt of local powers to create an independent empire. This empire came to be known as Durrani Empire, headed by Ahmad Shah Durrani, who unified the Pashtun tribes in 1747. This act is historically first attempt at creation of what we know today as an Afghan state. Durrani Empire can thus be considered the predecessor of modern Afghanistan. However, the duration of this Empire was not very long, and in the 19th century Afghanistan served as a buffer state between several important political players of that time – Indian, British and Russian Empires. The attempt at overcoming Afghanistan was made by the British, who didn’t succeed at subduing the Afghan tribes permanently, however. In 1919, after the Anglo-Afghan war, the country broke free from the United Kingdom and entered in its period of independence.
A wave of reforms to modernize the country came after the second World War with the rule of the last Afghan king, Muhammad Zahir, known also as Zahirshah. It was him who reformed the political system of Afghanistan when in 1964 he pronounced it a constitutional monarchy. A year later came the first free election. Zahirshah pressed for education of women, secular laws and modernization of Afghan cities and villages. Until modern times, he is undoubtedly a symbol of unification of the country.
Afghanistan, despite its efforts to become a stable and powerful nation in the Asian region, continued to struggle in its affinity to two world powers – Great Britain and Russia. It was the Russians with whom Zahirshah primarily maintained warm diplomatic ties. Thanks to these ties, number of projects were realized, such as construction of roads and purchase of arms. These activities angered the tradition religious authorities, the Ulamas. Ulamas opposed pragmatic reforms which were taking place in the late sixties because they understood them as an attempt to limit their power over the Afghan population.
The 1970’s in Afghanistan was the era of coups and struggles to seize the power. Both the coup of 1973 and the subsequent coup of 1978 led to intensification of Afghan-Soviet cooperation, which led to pro-Soviet political reforms of educational and agricultural sector. The ideological differences between pro-Soviet Marxists and Islamic fundamentalists thus continued to grow. Soviet Union understood these tensions as a threat of its regional hegemony, and thus decided to interfere by invasion in December of 1979. By May of 1980, there were already 100 thousand Soviet soldiers present in Afghanistan.
Soviet military presence unified Islamic fractions in attempts to drive the foreign forces from Afghanistan. Most of these fractions were in form of military mujahedeen organizations whose ideology was very much like that of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. They adopted a strong anti-western rhetoric and hoped for creation of Islamic state. Despite these inclinations, USA continued to support the Mujahedeen groups militarily and in logistics.
In 1984, the Soviet president Mikhail Gorbatchev decided to cease the military operations in Afghanistan. Last Soviet soldiers left the country in 1989, yet the attempts of Mujahedeen at establishing an Islamic state continued. The breaking point came when the Mujahedeen entered Kabul in April of 1992. They deposed President Najibullah from power, and the subsequent fight for power among the Afghani generals led to a bloody civil war. The following years witnessed the rise of Taliban, which seized the power in 1996, and established Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Taliban replaced the original Afghani legal system with Islamic sharia, and it ruled over the country till the military operation Permanent Peace, launched against it by the United States in 2001.
After Taliban was overthrown, a new government was formed with Hamid Karzai as the its Prime Minister and later President of the country. The last decade in Afghanistan saw efforts at establishing and maintaining ethnic as well as political stability. While most of the NATO troops left the country between 2014 and 2016, operations of US and Afghan troops against insurgents continue.