Findings from the Middle Paleolithic have been made, but the knowledge of this and subsequent phases of the Stone Age is still (1996) very uneven. First from about 4000 BC there is a fuller Late Nite political material from southern Afghanistan (Qanda Valley). At that time, the region was part of a trade and exchange system based on Mesopotamia, including including lapis lazuli from northern Afghanistan (Badakhshan), and copper items began to appear. Studies of ceramics etc. indicate close contacts with Iran and Turkmenistan. Within the so-called quetta culture (c. 2500-2000 BC), also known from Iran and Pakistan, significant urbanized, sometimes also fortified, societies that utilized irrigation were developed in southern Afghanistan. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Afghanistan.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Afghanistan. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
From about 2000 BC conditions in the north are better known. Even there were then urbanized communities and irrigation agriculture. The development broke out in several areas in the middle of the second millennium BC, probably because groups from Central Asia were moving south. However, investigated cities, palaces and temples exhibit a rich Bronze Age culture in Afghanistan, with close parallels in Central Asia and Iran. Contacts with India were also maintained but played less role. Iranian influence increased during the Iron Age (from about 700 BC), and from about 600 BC. Afghanistan was part of the empire of the Medes, then of the Persian Empire and the Hellenistic Empire (see Bactria). During the first century BC Yuezhi, nomads from the northeast, invaded Afghanistan. In the following century they formed a new kingdom, which included Afghanistan as part (see Kushana).
Persian and Mongolian influence 300 BC – about 1800 AD
Afghanistan’s history is characterized by the country’s geographical location – it has become a transit country for invading armies and is often squeezed between powerful neighbors. However, the rugged terrain has contributed to the Afghan tribes’ ability to withstand invasion waves, as well as to the attempts of various rulers to extend central power to the rural independent clan community from the capital Kabul.
Alexander the Great Incorporated in the 300s BC Afghanistan in its Persian Empire. Increased Arab influence led to Afghanistan’s Islamization in the 6th century AD. In the 13th and 13th centuries, the country was hit by Mongolian invasion waves, first under the Djingi’s khans and then under Timur Lenk’s leadership. With Kabul as their starting point, their successor Babur in the 16th century extended the mighty mogul kingdom down to the Indian subcontinent. The Persian ruler Nader however, drove the Mongols out of Afghanistan in 1739. The commander of Nader’s Afghan bodyguard, Ahmad Shah, founded the Royal Durrani Dynasty of Afghanistan in 1747, which remained in power until 1978. The newly formed kingdom quickly disintegrated, but Ahmad Shah is considered the founder of the Afghan nation.
The great game 1800-1947
In the 19th century, Afghanistan was squeezed between its two powerful neighbors – the expanding Russia in the north and British India in the southeast. The battle between these two great powers over the decisive influence over the country is called, with a term borrowed from Kipling, “The Great Game”. Three times – in 1838, 1878 and 1919 – Britain attempted to achieve dominance over Afghanistan. In all cases, the British forces were defeated by the Afghan clan warriors. Watch the big game.
Between the first and the second Anglo-Afghan war, King Dost Mohammad Khan largely succeeded in one country. His work was continued by Abdor Rahman Khan, “the strong emir”, during the last two decades of the 19th century. Abdor Rahman had lived in Turkmenistan for a period of his life and had seen the Muslim people succumb to the expanding Russia. The observations he made were the basis for a good foreign policy, which was based on a balance between British and Russian interests in Afghanistan. During this time, the country’s borders were set against the Russian and British empires, including the so-called Durand Line between Afghanistan and British India.
During the 1920s, King Amanollah Khan pursued a reform policy aimed at introducing Western modernities into Afghanistan. Among other things, Western upholstery was offered in Kabul, and new taxes were levied on the peasants in order to finance the modernization policy. However, dissatisfaction with this led to the king being overthrown in 1929, followed by a period of disorder and internal contradictions.
The balance between powerful neighbors, and the problems associated with the modernization of the Afghan clan community, have characterized Afghanistan’s modern history.
From independence to Soviet invasion, 1947-79
When Pakistan became independent in 1947, Afghanistan claimed the Pakistani areas where the Pashtun people live. The Durand Line had the ethnic homogeneous area populated by the Pashtuns in an Afghan and a British part. The Afghan demands led to a tense relationship between the two countries. Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan, leading to Afghanistan’s near total isolation for several years.
The king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, had come to power in 1933. In 1953 he made his cousin Mohammad Daudto the Prime Minister. Daud turned to the United States in the mid-1950s with a prayer for development assistance. The United States went crazy, and it was instead the Soviet Union that met the Afghan prayers for civilian and military aid. Thus, an important principle in Afghan foreign policy – neutrality and balance between the great powers – had been disrupted and the basis for a growing Soviet influence. Thousands of young officers were trained in the Soviet Union; many of them later came to play a fateful role in the many coup attempts. In 1963, the king forced the authoritarian Daud to resign, and a liberal constitution was adopted the following year. Political groups began to emerge, including the Communist Party PDPA. Democratic reforms, however, largely stayed on paper, depending on the king’s opposition, and the result was a growing social concern during the late 1960s. Criticism against the authorities was increased by the state’s inability to handle a drought disaster in the early 1970s. In 1973, Daud deposed the king with support from parts of the army and proclaimed republic with himself as president. Eventually, however, he came into conflict with the young officers who brought him to power. Since imprisoning a group of PDPA leaders in 1978, the officers struck and executed a coup, the so-called Saur Revolution in April, in which Daud and large parts of his family were obliterated.
The new communist regime was characterized from the very beginning by a strong division between two factions, khalq and parcham. The newly formed Revolutionary Council, led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, presented a five-year plan under which Afghanistan would have a Soviet-type state socialist system. All parties except PDPA were banned, and a land reform was proclaimed. The plan was put into effect by force of young cadres who arrived in the villages followed by military units. The new policy was experienced by the rural population, where about 80 percent lived, as a threat to the tribal community and as a further attempt by the central power to subvert the independent countryside. Within a few months, rebellion had erupted in most of Afghanistan’s provinces (see the Afghan war).
Afghanistan War 1979-92
The regime in Kabul became increasingly dependent on Soviet civilian and military advisers. In September 1979, Taraki was overthrown by his rival Hafizullah Amin, who was in turn eliminated by Soviet troops who invaded the country on December 27, 1979. (See also Afghanistan War). The Soviet Union deployed Babrak Karmal at the presidential post. This was replaced in 1986 by Mohammad Najibollah. However, the pressure from the guerrillas (see the Afghan guerrillas) forced a negotiating attitude on the part of the Soviet-backed regime and the new leaders of the Soviet Union. After concluding an UN-led agreement with Pakistan and the United States on squad withdrawal, the Soviet Union began its hometown of troops in 1988, which was completed in 1989.
The weakened regime following the departure of the Soviet army tried to appease the opposition by orienting itself against the Islamic and Alliance-free countries. However, the guerrillas continued the war, and at the same time as its successes prevented the regime’s fall, the ethnic gaps in the country became increasingly evident. After the Uzbek government’s revolt in northern Afghanistan, the regime collapsed and capitulated on April 25, 1992.
Continued disintegration, Taliban domination and war scene
The new leadership was characterized by strong ethnic and ideological contradictions between the warlords who led different factions during the struggle against the Soviet Union. Civil war broke out immediately and was now concentrated on the previously spared capital of Kabul. In the absence of a functioning central power, the country collapsed, and local forces took over in the provinces. In many places, a pure bandit empire spread. In the fall of 1994, a new military force, the Orthodox Islamist Taliban militia, entered the arena (see Taliban). The Taliban had their roots in the Pashtun population in southern Afghanistan.
The people’s war fatigue and the desire for law and order favored the Taliban, who quickly took control of southern Afghanistan. They were supported by Pakistan and initially welcomed by the United States. Both countries wanted stability in oil and gas-rich Central Asia, and the US saw the Taliban as a regional counterbalance to Iran. However, following the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul in September 1996, the ethnic and geographical polarization of Afghanistan was exposed. The Taliban’s advance through the central and northern parts of Afghanistan in the summer of 1998 was accompanied by armed conflict and massacre reports.
The Taliban regime brought international isolation. The Taliban had unilaterally abolished the Republic in 1996 and proclaimed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), but this government was only recognized by three states: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The fact that al-Qaeda’s leadership, led by Usama bin Laden , was given a sanctuary in Afghanistan was a cause for isolation, but the Taliban also quickly became known for their ban on girls going to school and women to work – and they too otherwise, women’s freedom of movement and civil rights are severely restricted. A third factor contributing to the isolation was the sharp increase in opium production up to the turn of the millennium, after which production was reduced to a minimum.
After the Taliban refused to extradite bin Laden, in 1999, the United States stopped trading with Afghanistan. In November of that year, the UN imposed financial sanctions on the Taliban regime. Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, a US-led coalition carried out bombings across large parts of Afghanistan with the aim of destroying al-Qaeda (see also the war on terror). The United States also entered into military cooperation with the Afghan Armed Opposition, the so-called Northern Alliance, which was equipped to handle the war on the ground. In November, the Taliban empire collapsed in most of the country and in early December, the Taliban also capitulated in their strongest stronghold, the city of Kandahar in the south. The regime’s rapid collapse was partly due to the loose network on which the Taliban empire was built. At the time of adversity, many provincial warlords changed sides, others laid down their weapons.
In 2001, delegates from most Afghan ethnic and political groups gathered for a conference in Bonn, Germany, to highlight Afghanistan’s future. The Taliban movement, which was considered politically and militarily, was not represented at the conference. A provisional administration, led by the Pashtun Hamid Karzai, was set up and an international force called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was stationed in Kabul to protect the new administration (read more about the 2001 Afghan war). In 2002, in all of Afghanistan’s districts, indirect elections of delegates to the traditional council assembly, Loya Jirga, were made, which appointed an interim government, including this part of Hamid Karzai, and a commission that would write a new constitution. A new loyal jirga gathered in 2003 to adopt the new constitution, which gave the country a strong presidential office. After hard debate, it was also established, among other things, that women and men have equal rights. In 2004, presidential elections were held, giving Hamid Karzai about 55 percent of the vote and in 2005 the democratic transformation of Afghanistan was completed through elections to parliament and provincial assemblies.
Despite its strong international support, the Provisional Government found it difficult to consolidate its authority in the country. Many provinces were dominated by militia leaders who had built up their positions during the war years and took orders from Kabul to an extremely limited extent, even in cases where they had been formally appointed governors. The government’s work was characterized by contradictions between Karzai and the ethnic minority representatives, mainly the Tajiks, who dominated the opposition to both the Soviet army and the Taliban.
Developments during the 2000s
In some respects, Afghanistan underwent a positive transformation during the 1990s. The country had rapid economic growth and the education system and health care were greatly expanded, the position of women strengthened and maternal mortality began to decline (from a very high level). In the middle of the decade, however, the development began to take off, mainly because the Taliban, who could organize themselves from sanctuaries in Pakistan, stepped up their armed struggle against the international presence in Afghanistan. After a few years, they had established support points in large parts of the country, strongest in the south and east.
ISAF had then been expanded and transformed from a protective and peace building squad to a war-fighting force under US command, with at most about 130,000 participants from 49 different countries, including Sweden. In spite of this development, the inability to effectively fight the Taliban in combination with the increasing number of civilian casualties in the war helped to reduce the population’s confidence in the international effort.
Widespread corruption within the administration, again increasing drug production and widespread electoral fraud in both the 2009 presidential election and the 2010 parliamentary elections discredited the government.
A few years after these elections, military international intervention began to be discontinued. By the end of 2014, ISAF troops had left Afghanistan. A new, smaller NATO-led operation was established called the Resolute Support Mission(RSM). The purpose of this force is primarily to assist the Afghan security forces and the military with training and support. At the beginning of 2020, the international military presence in Afghanistan was made up of approximately 12,000 US soldiers and a NATO force of approximately 8,700 men and women. Sweden contributed about 20 people. In Washington, a decision had been made to sharply reduce the US presence, which was considered to have few consequences even for the NATO-led operation. According to the strategy adopted in August 2017, US troops would primarily fight international terrorism, primarily the Islamic State(IS), which has been established in primarily a few provinces in eastern Afghanistan. With regard to the Afghan Taliban movement, which had escalated its warfare in the late 10s, the primary purpose was to force peace negotiations.
The country’s third presidential election was held in 2014 and resulted in a protracted process that ended in a compromise forced by the US; Ashraf Ghani became President and Abdullah Abdullah (born 1960) was assigned the newly created post as Chief Executive Officer, comparable to the Prime Minister. Enthusiasm for the first presidential election in 2004 had then faded, the country was polarized and the internationally funded electoral process showed great shortcomings and opportunities for electoral fraud.
The parliamentary elections to be held in 2015 were only carried out three years later. As in previous elections, the result was delayed by complaints of electoral fraud coming from different directions and the new parliament could only be installed in April 2019. In the presidential elections held in September 2019, Abdullah and Ghani were again opposed. As before, both claimed that cheating had taken place and the vote counted out on time. Voter turnout was very low, only around 10 percent, which was largely due to the violent and threatening situation in mainly the Taliban-infiltrated areas of the country. The fact that the previous elections had not led to any clear results, combined with the great risks, led many voters to abstain. In December 2019, a preliminary election result was announced, which meant Ghani won by a marginal margin, which was questioned by the opponent camp. However, the official result announced in February 2020 was the same and Ghani was sworn in for a second term the following month. Abdullah Abdullah insisted that he had in fact won and held his own installation ceremony the same day. The Taliban movement also refused to acknowledge Ashraf Ghani’s election victory.
By the end of 2019, the Taliban had further advanced their positions and were judged to have control or presence in most of the country. The Taliban have gained entry even in other groups than the Pashtuns, who form their core group, and the ideological differences between the Taliban and the government side have become less pronounced. The government controlled the larger cities but the Taliban were just outside. In many places, control could be switched or even shared between the government and the Taliban, who could also work together to provide social services. At the same time, the war was going on with unabated intensity and an increasing number of civilian victims. A new trend was that more civilians fell victim to attacks from government forces than from the Taliban.
In parallel, some peace efforts were underway. The US launched a series of meetings with Taliban representatives in Qatar’s capital Doha in the summer of 2018. The Taliban still considered themselves the legitimate government of Afghanistan, thrown out of the saddle by a foreign state invasion. Their starting point was, therefore, that the US troops had to leave Afghanistan before any talks could possibly come to an end between them and representatives of the sitting government in Kabul, regarded by them as a puppet regime. In parallel with the Doha process, the issue of negotiations between the Taliban and the government side was driven by a new constellation of neighboring countries comprising Pakistan, the Russian Federation and China.
Negotiations between the US and the Taliban were temporarily suspended in September 2019 after some 30 people, including an American soldier, were killed in suicide attacks in Kabul. At the end of February 2020, the so-called Doha Agreement (Bringing Peace to Afghanistan) was signed. At the same time, a joint Afghan-American declaration, Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan, was published, which indirectly binds the Afghan government to the agreement. The construction is a result of the Taliban’s continued refusal to negotiate directly with representatives of the Kabul government.
The Doha Agreement provides for the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops in two phases. By mid-July 2020, the US should have reduced its troop presence to 8,600 soldiers, while NATO and other allies have made similar reductions. By the end of April 2021, all US troops will be out of Afghanistan. However, one condition for the withdrawal is that the Taliban, for their part, ensure that terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and other similar groups cannot operate from bases in Afghanistan.
The agreement also stipulated that a dialogue between the government of Kabul, including representatives of other centers of power in Afghanistan, and the Taliban should begin 10 days after the signing, that is, March 10, 2020, with the aim of drawing up an agreement on the shaping of the country’s future as in its turn would allow for a permanent cease-fire. As an initial confidence-building gesture, the government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban one thousand prisoners from the government side. By mid-March 2020, the process had already stalled at this initial point.
Thus, the continuing peace process is surrounded by numerous stumbling blocks and question marks, including the ability of Afghan politicians to cooperate for peace and the Taliban’s willingness to really refrain from using their capital of violence. Another factor of uncertainty lies in the fact that the Islamic State (IS), under the regional name Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP or ISK), permanently controls its presence in Afghanistan in a way that neither the security forces nor the Taliban can control. Continued drug production and its central role for the economy can also create problems by promoting interests that oppose law and order.