The war-torn nation of Afghanistan has lately been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons possible. However, the circumstances were not always the same. Afghanistan has seen both good and bad times over the course of its history. At one point of time, it was a part of the flourishing Persian Empire, and the very next moment it became a hotbed for Islamic extremists. It is difficult to ascertain what actually went wrong, but tracking the history of this country can give us some answers.
The history of Afghanistan can be traced back to 50,000 years ago, when the first human settlements thrived in this region. Studies based on the excavations of prehistoric sites suggest that religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism prevailed in this region much before the advent of Islam.
700 BCE to 330 BCE: Persian Rule in Afghanistan
In 700 BCE, the Medes came to this region from Iran and established the first empire of the country. The first Aryan king of the Medes Empire was Deioces, who ruled the region from 701 BCE to 665 BCE. The Medes flourished for 180 years, after which they were overpowered by the Achaemenids, who, in turn, ruled Afghanistan from 550 BCE to 330 BCE. One of the greatest rulers of the Achaemenid Empire was Darius I. He was successful in expanding the empire to a great extent. The First Persian Empire was brought down by the King of Macedon, Alexander the Great.
330 BCE to 7th Century AD: Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan, then under the rule of Persians, as a part of his march to India. Defeating Persians was one of the most remarkable feats he achieved. After Alexander's death in 323 BCE, the region was ruled by the Seleucid Empire. During this period, Afghanistan was roughly divided into two parts: Bactria―in the northern region―became independent, while the southern region was taken over by the Maurya dynasty. Other small dynasties like the Sassanids and Hephthalites followed until the 7th century AD and from thereon began the rise of the Muslim regime in Afghanistan.
7th Century to 19th Century: Advent of Muslims in Afghanistan
The Muslim conquests of Afghanistan began with the introduction of several small dynasties in this region. Among the most powerful Muslim rulers of this era, Mahmud of Ghazni was considered the greatest ruler of the country. Other able rulers to follow were Genghis Khan (12th AD), Timur (14th century AD), and Babur (16th century AD). In the 18th century, Nadir Shah of Persia extended his rule into Afghanistan. After his death, the conquests were continued by his lieutenant, Ahmad Shah, who virtually brought the whole of Afghanistan under one empire.
19th and 20th Century: Afghan Wars
In the 19th century, Afghanistan suddenly became prominent on the world map as Britain and Russia tried to get an upper hand in central Asia. The then ruler of Afghanistan, Dost Muhammad waged a war against the British when they tried to replace him with the former ruler who was on good terms with them. Dost Muhammad's forces were no match for the powerful British army though, and he was deposed after the war only to be reinstated back after a brief period. He finally signed an alliance with the British in 1857. He was succeeded by his son Sher Ali, who fought the second Afghan war against the British forces in 1878. The rulers to follow mostly tried to be on good terms with the British, however, Afghanistan didn't budge to British pressure and remained neutral in the World War I. After the assassination of Habibullah, the then ruler of the country, Amanullah took the reins in his own hands. What followed was the third Afghan War, which finally ended with the Treaty of Rawalpindi.
20th Century: Modernization and Rise of Extremists
The treaty of Rawalpindi was a landmark breakthrough in the history of this country, as it paved the way for the modernization. Afghanistan preferred to stay neutral during the World War II as well, and finally went on to join the United Nations in 1946. The situation began to worsen in the 1970s when the nation faced serious economic crisis. It was followed by repeated attempts of the USSR to make Afghanistan their stronghold in central Asia. Late 1970s, saw the rise of Mujahideen in this region. These warriors armed with guerrilla warfare techniques became a major challenge for the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the Afghan government.
Emergence of Taliban and Afghanistan War
The rise of Mujahideen came as a major blow not just for Afghanistan, but for the entire world. The Soviet troops were forced to withdraw after the Afghanistan war between 1979 - 89. This made the country even more unstable and the Mujahideen troops had control of Kabul by 1992. Their failure to come to a consensus meant that the struggle continued; this time within the fractions of Mujahideen. In 1994, a new entity marked its emergence in Afghanistan in the form of Taliban. Within a short period, they had Kabul under their control. As the Taliban fraction continued to rise, the other nations in the world―including the United States and Britain―were left with no option, but to take them on.
Though Afghanistan's past has been all about struggle since the ancient times, lately this struggle has turned from bad to worse. Though the power of Taliban has decreased to a great extent, they still exist in pockets and the struggle continues. The sooner this struggle ends, the better it will be for the nation and for the world.