A Brief History of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is strategically situated at the crossroads
of four major geographical regions: the Middle East, Central Asia,
the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. For thousands of years,
Persian, Central Asian, Sino-Siberian, Greek, Indian, Turkish, Arab,
and Mongol peoples have crossed, invaded, mixed in, and left their
influences on what is today Afghanistan. Her food, which has changed
little over the centuries, reflects this unique mix of peoples and
Afghanistan's mountain passes, such as the well-known
Khyber Pass on the border of Pakistan, have served as passageways
for invaders, traders, and travelers from the outside world. Before
the development of waterborne travel between Europe and the Far
East, the main east-west trade routes passed through Afghanistan's
northern and southern plains and over her mountain passes. Marco
Polo's legendary journey carried him along the Silk Route in northern
Afghanistan to China in the 14th century.
Throughout history, Afghanistan's strategic location
has attracted conquerors and empire builders from around the world.
Alexander the Great passed through on his way to India in the 4th
century BC and established the Kingdom of Bactria in northern Afghanistan.
In ancient times, this region was an important religious center
for Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.
Islam came to Afghanistan with the Muslim Arab conquest
in the 9th century. This region became one of the most prosperous
provinces in the Muslim world and an important center of Islamic
culture. Through Afghanistan, Islam came in contact with Indian
culture, which resulted in the flourishing of a rich Sufi tradition.
Rumi, the great mystic poet and Sufi master was born in northern
In the 10th century, the emperor Mahmud of Ghazni
founded a dynasty in southeastern Afghanistan. He established a
court of learning and literature where more than 400 poets gathered
to compose verses. It was there that Firdausi wrote the great masterpiece
of early modern Persian literature, the Shahnama, or Book of the
In the 13th century, Ghenghis Khan and his Mongol
hordes overran Afghanistan destroying everything in their paths.
Tamerlane followed in the 14th century. Babur, a direct descendant
of Ghenghis Khan and founder of the Moghul Empire which dominated
India for over 200 years, began his rise to power in Kabul in the
16th century and returned there to die. Meanwhile, the western part
of Afghanistan came under the control of the Persian Safavids, a
dynasty which also lasted nearly 200 years.
In the 18th century, Ahmad Shah Durrani established
an Afghan empire that stretched well beyond the current borders
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the expanding
Russian and British empires sought control over Afghanistan, but
without success. During three separate Anglo-Afghan wars, the Pashtun
tribes of eastern and southern Afghanistan repelled the British.
The tribes’ fierce independence and bravery have been recreated
in the short stories and poems of Rudyard Kipling. Several important
battles during that time were fought at the Khyber Pass and have
served as subject matter for numerous films.
Afghanistan was destabilized in the late 1970s by
the Soviet invasion. This was the beginning of a nightmare for the
people of Afghanistan who would not yield to the large occupying
force, which caused destruction at a scale that made all previous
invaders pale by comparison. About 2 million Afghans were killed
in that conflict. Several million became refugees. Land mines were
spread everywhere, and countless children became orphans.
The Soviet army gave up and withdrew in the early
’90s; the experience was instrumental to the fall of the Soviet
Union. The valiant people of Afghanistan were the forgotten heroes
of the end of the Cold War. Their country sank deep in a senseless
civil war, which brought the Taliban to Kabul in 1996. These psychologically
crippled puppets brought a new brand of oppression upon Afghanistan.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, resulted in the fall
of the Taliban. These years of political turmoil represent yet another
chapter in the country's long and tumultuous history, dominated
by the attempt of outside forces to conquer and control an intensely
proud and independent people.
We hope the future will bring stability and peace
to this sensitive region.