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 cultures.

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 Afghanistan.

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 Kings.

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 of Afghanistan.

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.