The Achaemenians and the Greeks
In the 6th century BC the Achaemenian ruler Cyrus II the Great established his authority over the area. Darius I the Great consolidated Achaemenian rule of the region through the provinces, or satrapies, of Aria (in the region of modern Herat), Bactria (Balkh), Sattagydia (Ghazni to the Indus River), Arachosia (Qandahar), and Drangiana (Seistan).
Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenians and conquered most of the Afghan satrapies before he left for India in 327 BC. Ruins of an outpost Greek city founded about 325 BC were discovered at Ay Khanom, at the confluence of the Amu and Kowkcheh rivers. Excavations there produced inscriptions and transcriptions of Delphic precepts written in a script influenced by cursive Greek. Greek decorative elements dominate the architecture, including an immense administrative center, a theatre, and a gymnasium. A nomadic raid about 130 BC ended the Greek era at Ay Khanom.
After Alexander's death in 323 BC, the eastern satrapies passed to the Seleucid dynasty, which ruled from Babylon. In about 304 BC the territory south of the Hindu Kush was ceded to the Maurya dynasty of northern India. Bilingual rock inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic (the official language of the Achaemenians) found at Qandahar and Laghman (in eastern Afghanistan) date from the reign of Ashoka (c. 265-238 BC, or c. 273-232 BC), the Maurya dynasty's most renowned emperor. Diodotus, a local Greco-Bactrian governor, declared the Afghan plain of the Amu River independent about 250 BC; Greco-Bactrian conquerors moved south about 180 BC and established their rule at Kabul and in the Punjab. The Parthians of eastern Iran also broke away from the Seleucids, establishing control over Seistan and Qandahar in the south.
The The Kushans
Also spelled KUSANA, ruling line descended from the Yüeh-chih (q.v.), a people that ruled over most of the northern Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia during the first three centuries of the Christian era. The Yüeh-chih conquered Bactria in the 2nd century BC and divided the country into five chiefdoms, one of which was that of the Kushans (Kuei-shuang). A hundred years later, the Kushan chief Kujula Kadphises (Chiu-Chiu-Chueh) secured the political unification of the Yüeh-chih kingdom under himself.
Under Kaniska I (fl. 1st century AD) and his successors, the Kushan kingdom reached its height. It was acknowledged as one of the four great Eurasian powers of its time (the others being China, Rome, and Parthia). The Kushans were instrumental in spreading Buddhism in Central Asia and China and in developing Mahayana Buddhism and the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art.
The Kushans became affluent through trade, particularly with Rome, as their large issues of gold coins show. These coins, which exhibit the figures of Greek, Roman, Iranian, Hindu, and Buddhist deities and bear inscriptions in adapted Greek letters, are witness to the toleration and to the syncretism in religion and art that prevailed in the Kushan empire. After the rise of the Sasanian dynasty in Iran and of local powers in northern India, Kushan rule declined.
The Sasanians and Hephthalites
A The Kushan Empire did not long survive Kaniska, though for centuries Kushan princes continued to rule in various provinces. Persian Sasanians established control over parts of Afghanistan, including Bagram, in AD 241. In AD 400 a new wave of Central Asian nomads under the Hephthalites took control, only to be defeated in AD 565 by a coalition of Sasanians and Western Turks. From the 5th through the 7th century many Chinese Buddhist pilgrims continued to travel through Afghanistan. The pilgrim Hsüan-tsang (Xüanzang) wrote an important account of his travels, and several of the religious centres he visited, including Hadda, Ghazna, Konduz, Bamian, Shotorak, and Bagram, have been excavated.
Medieval Period (7th - 18th Century)
Under the Hephthalites and Sasanians, many of the Afghan princedoms were influenced by Hinduism. The Hindu kings (Shahi) were concentrated in the Kabul and Ghazni areas. Excavated sites of the period include a major Hindu Shahi temple north of Kabul and a chapel in Ghazni that contains both Buddhist and Hindu statuary, indicating that there was a mingling of these two religions.
The first Muslim Dynasties
Islamic armies defeated the Sasanians in AD 642 at Nahavand (near modern Hamadan, Iran) and moved on to the Afghan area, but they were unable to hold the territory; cities submitted, only to rise in revolt, and the hastily converted returned to their old beliefs once the armies had passed. The 9th and 10th centuries witnessed the rise of numerous local Islamic dynasties. One of the earliest was the Tahirids of Khorasan, whose kingdom included Balkh and Herat; they established virtual independence from the 'Abbasid caliphate in AD 820. The Tahirids were succeeded in 867-869 by a native dynasty from Seistan, the Saffarids. Local princes in the north soon became feudatories of the powerful Samanids, who ruled from Bukhara. From 872 to 999 Bukhara, Samarkand, and Balkh enjoyed a golden age under Samanid rule.
In the middle of the 10th century a former Turkish slave named Alptegin seized Ghazna (Ghazni). He was succeeded by another former slave, Subüktigin, who extended the conquests to Kabul and the Indus. His son was the great Mahmud of Ghazna, who came to the throne in 998. Mahmud conquered the Punjab and Multan and carried his raids into the heart of India. The hitherto obscure town of Ghazna became a splendid city, as did the second capital at Bust (Lashkar Gah).
Mahmud's descendants continued to rule over a gradually diminishing empire until 1150, when 'Ala`-ud-Din Husayn of Ghur, a mountain-locked region in central Afghanistan, sacked Ghazna and drove the last Ghaznavid out to India. 'Ala`-ud-Din's nephew, Mu'izz-ud-Din Muhammad, known as Muhammad of Ghur, first invaded India in 1175. After his death in 1206, his general, Qutb-ud-Din Aybak, became the sultan of Delhi.
Shortly after Muhammad of Ghur's death, the Ghurid Empire fell apart, and Afghanistan was occupied by Sultan 'Ala` ad-Din Muhammad, the Khwarezm-Shah. The territories of the Khwarezm-Shah dynasty extended from Chinese Turkistan in the east to the borders of Iraq in the west.
The Mongol Invasion
Genghis Khan invaded the eastern part of 'Ala` ad-Din's empire in 1219. Avoiding a battle, 'Ala` ad-Din retreated to a small island in the Caspian Sea, where he died in 1220. Soon after 'Ala` ad-Din's death, his energetic son Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu rallied the Afghan highlanders at Parwan (modern Jabal os Saraj), near Kabul, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Mongols under Kutikonian. Genghis Khan, who was then at Herat, hastened to avenge the defeat and laid siege to Bamian. There Mutugen, the Khan's grandson, was killed, an event so infuriating to Genghis Khan that when he captured the citadel he ordered that no living being be spared. Bamian was utterly destroyed. Advancing on Ghazna, Genghis won a great victory over Jalal ad-Din, who then fell back toward the Indus (1221), where he made a final but unsuccessful stand.
Later Medieval Dynasties
After his death in 1227, Genghis Khan's vast empire fell to pieces. In Afghanistan some local chiefs succeeded in establishing independent principalities, and others acknowledged Mongol princes as suzerains. This state of affairs continued until the end of the 14th century, when Timur (Tamerlane) conquered a large part of the country.
Timur's successors, the Timurids, were great patrons of learning and the arts who enriched their capital city of Herat with fine buildings. Under their rule (1404-1507) Afghanistan enjoyed peace and prosperity.
Early in the 16th century the Turkic Uzbeks rose to power in Central Asia under Muhammad Shaybani, who took Herat in 1507. In late 1510 the Safavid shah Esma'il besieged Shaybani in Merv and killed him. Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan and Timur, had made Kabul the capital of an independent principality in 1504. He captured Qandahar in 1522, and in 1526 he marched on Delhi. He defeated Ibrahim, the last of the Lodi Afghan kings of India, and established the Mughal Empire, which lasted until the middle of the 19th century and included all of eastern Afghanistan south of the Hindu Kush. The capital was at Agra. Nine years after his death in 1530, the body of Babur was taken to Kabul for burial.
During the next 200 years Afghanistan was parceled between the Mughals of India and the Safavids of Persia--the former holding Kabul north to the southern foothills of the Hindu Kush and the latter Herat and Farah. Qandahar was for many years in dispute.
Last Afghan Empire
Overthrow of foreign rule:
Periodic attempts were made to gain independence. In 1709 Mirwais Khan, a leader of the Hotak , led a successful rising against Gorgin Khan, the Persian governor of Qandahar.
Mirwais Khan governed Qandahar until his death in 1715. In 1716 the Abdalis of Herat, encouraged by his example, took up arms against the Persians and under their leader, Asadullah Khan, succeeded in liberating their province. Mahmud, Mirwais's young son and successor, was not content with holding Qandahar, and in 1722 he led some 20,000 men against Isfahan; the Safavid government surrendered after a six-month siege.
Mahmud died in 1725 and was succeeded by Ashraf, who had to contend with Russian pressure from the north and Ottoman Turk advances from the west. Shah Ashraf halted both the Russian and Turkish onslaughts, but a brigand chief, Nader Qoli Beg, defeated the Afghans at Damghan in October 1729 and drove them from Persia. During the retreat Ashraf was murdered, probably on orders from his cousin, who was then holding Qandahar.
Nader Qoli Beg took Herat in 1732 after a desperate siege. Impressed by their courage, Nader recruited many Heratis to serve in his army. He was elected shah of Persia, with the name Nader Shah, in 1736.
In 1738, after a year's siege, the city of Qandahar fell to Nader Shah's army of 80,000 men. Nader Shah seized Ghazna and Kabul and occupied the Mughal capital at Delhi in 1739. His booty included the Koh-i-noor diamond and the Peacock Throne. He was assassinated at Khabushan in 1747, which led to the disintegration of his empire and the rise of the last great Afghan empire.
The Republic of Afghanistan (1973-78)
During Daud Khan's second tenure as prime minister, he attempted to introduce socioeconomic reforms, to write a new constitution, and to effect a gradual movement away from the socialist ideals his regime initially espoused. Afghanistan broadened and intensified its relationships with other Muslim countries, trying to move away from its dependency on the Soviet Union and the United States. In addition, Daud Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister of Pakistan, reached tentative agreement on a solution to the Pashtunistan problem.
Daud Khan received approval in 1977 of his new constitution from the National Assembly, which wrote in several new articles and amended others. In March 1977 Daud Khan, then president of Afghanistan, appointed a new Cabinet composed of sycophants, friends, sons of friends, and even collateral members of the royal family. The two major leftist organizations, the People's (Khalq) and Banner parties, then reunited against Daud Khan after a 10-year separation. There followed a series of political assassinations, massive antigovernment demonstrations, and arrests of major leftist leaders. Before his arrest Hafizullah Amin, a U.S.-educated People's Party leader, contacted party members in the armed forces and devised a makeshift but successful coup. Daud Khan and most of his family were killed, and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was born on April 27, 1978.
The Soviets in Afghanistan
Brzezinski's fears that the U.S.S.R. would take advantage of the arc of crisis seemed justified when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It is likely, however, that the Soviets were responding to a crisis of their own rather than trying to exploit another's. Remote and rugged Afghanistan had been an object of imperialist intrigue throughout the 19th and 20th centuries because of its vulnerable location between the Russian and British Indian empires. After 1955, with India and Pakistan independent, the Afghan government of Mohammad Daud Khan forged economic and military ties to the U.S.S.R. The monarchy was overthrown by Daud Khan in 1973 and was succeeded by a one-party state. The small Afghan Communist party, meanwhile, broke into factions, while a fundamentalist Muslim group began an armed insurrection in 1975. Daud Khan worked to lessen Afghanistan's dependence on Soviet and U.S. aid, and he reportedly had a heated disagreement with Brezhnev himself during a visit to Moscow in April 1977. Leftists in the Afghan officer corps, perhaps fearing a blow against themselves, murdered Daud Khan in April 1978 and pledged to pursue friendly relations with the U.S.S.R. Thus Afghanistan, under the rule of Nur Mohammad Taraki, was virtually in the Soviet camp. When Taraki objected to a purge of the Afghan Cabinet, however, the leader of a rival faction, Hafizullah Amin, had him arrested and killed. These intramural Communist quarrels both embarrassed the Soviets and threatened to destabilize the Afghan regime in the face of growing Muslim resistance. In the fall of 1979 the Soviets built up their military strength across the border and hinted to American diplomats that they might feel obliged to intervene. On Dec. 25, 1979, the Soviet army began its occupation, and two days later a coup d'état led to the murder of Amin and the installation of Babrak Karmal, a creature of the KGB who had been brought into the country by Soviet paratroops.
The Soviets would probably have preferred to work through a pliant native regime rather than invade Afghanistan, but Amin's behavior and Moscow's unwillingness to risk a domestic overthrow of a Communist regime forced their hand. The invasion, therefore, appeared to be an application of the Brezhnev Doctrine and was all the more pressing given that the Central Asian provinces of the Soviet Union were also vulnerable to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The United States was tardy in responding to the 1978 coup despite Carter's concern over the arc of crisis and the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Kabul in February 1979. At the same time, the Soviet invasion aroused American suspicions of a grand strategy aimed at seizing a warm-water port on the Indian Ocean and the oil of the Persian Gulf. Over the course of the next decade, however, the puppet Afghan regime lost all authority with the people, Afghan soldiers defected in large numbers, and the Muslim and largely tribal resistance, armed with U.S. and Chinese weapons, held out in the mountains against more than 100,000 Soviet troops and terror bombing of their villages. More than 5,000,000 Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Western observers soon began to speak of Afghanistan as the Soviets' Vietnam.