Friday, February 1, 2013


File:Afghan topo en.jpg

Afghanistan has long been a crossroads in central Asia, and a rugged and difficult crossroads at that.  With the Hindu Kush range running from the Northeast to the center of the country, much of Afghanistan is mountainous, and the famous Khyber Pass into the Indus Valley of Pakistan is here.  That pass is formed by the Kabul River, upon which sits the capital city of Kabul.

Portions of Afghanistan had been conquered by Alexander the Great, were ruled as part of the Kingdom of Bactria, fell to the Parthians, and eventually fell to local petty rulers.  The arrival of Islam in the 7th century would permanently change the religious landscape, and Afghanistan remains a Sunni Islamic majority state.  These lands would later find themselves ruled by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane -- and it was a descendant of Tamerlane, Baber, with his capital at Kabul, successfully invaded India and established the Mogul Dynasty in the 16th century, an Empire that lasted until 1857 around Delhi.  During these centuries, the Moguls controlled the east, while the north was part of the Khanate of Bukhara and the southwest the Persian Safavids (the south, such as the city of Kandahar, alternated between being part of the Mogul and the Safavid Empires).  It was in the 18th century that the Durani Royal House established an independent Afghan state, which is often considered the foundation of the modern country.  Ahmed Shah, who began his rule in 1747 "established a unified state" and his line lasted until 1823.  Dost Mohammed of the House of Barakzai would rule in the years that followed.

In the 19th century, Afghanistan found itself between the spheres of influence of two major powers: Russia to the north, which annexed many of the "Stan" states of Central Asia during the mid 1800s [northern Kazakhstan, 1820s, 1850s southern Kazakhstan, 1850s , Turkestan, 1864 {south-central Kazakhstan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan}, Emirate of Bukhara, 1868 {Tajikistan, southern Uzbekistan}, Caspian Coast of modern Turkmenistan, 1873, Khanate of Khiva, 1873 {west Uzbekistan, and north Turkmenistan} Emirate of Kokand, 1876 {far east Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan} southern Turkmenistan, 1880s {area of Ashgabat}; the two bold locations becoming vassals]; the other power was that of the United Kingdom, which controlled India and Pakistan.  During the "Great Game" these two Imperial powers contended for dominance of Central Asia, and Afghanistan found itself in the middle.

It was the desire to control the approaches of India that Afghanistan provided that prompted the British to invade in 1838 to prop up a local Emir sympathetic to their interests and remove Dost Mohammed.  This was the First Anglo-Afghan War. By 1842 the British army in Kabul were massacred, and the British withdrew from the area.  The threat of a later Emir, Sher Ali Khan, joining an alliance with Russia prompted another intervention in 1878, the Second Anglo-Afghan War -- the end of which in 1880 ensured British influence in the area, and a pro-British Emir, Abdur Rahman Khan, but left Afghanistan as an independent state.  This condition would be agreed to by the British and Russians in 1907.  That Emir signed the agreement in 1893 that established the Durand Line as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, an agreement re-affirmed after a short Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, and still in place today as the international boundary.

Afghanistan became a Kingdom in 1926 during the reign of Amanullah Khan and internal unrest over programs of modernization led to his resignation in 1929, and the assassination of his successor, Mohammed Nadir Shah, in 1933.  His son, Mohammed Zahir Shah, would reign as king from 1933 until 1973 (he died in 2002!).  The Afghans curried favor with the Russians in the years after World War I, signing a trade agreement in 1936 with the USSR.  The monarchy itself would collapse in 1973 with the declaration of a Republic, and Afghanistan was ripped by internal rebellions and a struggle for power for the next few years, while Mohammed Daoud Khan, first cousin of the King he had overthrown, served as President.  His assassination in a communist coup in 1978 set the stage for a rather famous interval in Afghan history.

In 1978, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with 80,000 troops, finally forced to withdraw in the face of not only constant attacks and opposition in the country, but the larger crisis in the USSR in 1989.  The years that followed were marked by Civil War and unrest.  In 1996, however, the Taliban, now famous, seized control of Kabul, and they would be the dominate force in the country until the 2001 invasion by the United States and her allies in the wake of the 11 September attacks, Operation Enduring Freedom.  With US backing, an interim government was formed in 2002 headed by Hamid Karzai, who became elected President in 2004, winning re-election in 2009.  The United States remains in the country in support of its government, which is an ally, along with forces of a number of other nations, especially the United Kingdom. Prince Harry, of course, recently made headlines for taking an active role as a gunner of a combat helicopter in Helmand Province.

File:Afghanistan Ethnolinguistic Groups 1997.jpg

Afghanistan is marked by a number of different ethnic and linguistic groups, as reflected by the map above.  The Pashtun dominate in the south (the light green in the map above), and in Kabul itself, with small pockets of Ballock (dark green), while the central mountains have both Aimak (blue) and Haraza (green).  In the north, Turkmen (red), Uzbek (pink), and Tajik (brown) are also widely spoken, and shared with the neighboring countries to the north.  Dari, a form of Persian, is widely spoken across the country and, with Pashtun, is an official language.

Afghanistan remains a troubled nation, with not only dire economic conditions, and the continuing presence of the Taliban, but a government of questionable stability, and continuing problems of internal security and development.  Certainly the opium poppy trade is no help.

As it has for centuries, Afghanistan remains strategically important, and worthy of note.

This blogger, for one, is grateful to his countrymen who have served in the rugged territory of Afghanistan out of devotion to their own Republic.

Live well!

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