Understanding Afghanistan’s History and Politics



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Understanding Afghanistan’s History and Politics

Many of the historical events in Afghanistan went largely ignored by the Western World until those events directly threatened the security of the West, the US in particular. As a nation in Central Asia, Afghanistan has been influenced by the surrounding nations, as well as by the major world powers which have fought for domination of Asia throughout the past two centuries. Unfortunately, the security and stability of Afghanistan have been compromised by such battles, and the country has often been at the mercy of larger world powers, including Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.



Political Turmoil in Aghanistan

Consolidation of Afghanistan (1747) – Pashtun Tribes

Emergence of Afghanistan as a nation; Pashtun tribes developed an alliance under Ahmed Khan Abdali(Ahmad Shah Durani). Before this date, the area known as Afghanistan today consisted of tribes dominated by various empires throughout history.



Anglo-Afghan Wars (British Intervention and Invasion)

1839-1842 – Britain set up a puppet government in Afghanistan to prevent Russian influence from spreading; Afghans protested and revolted; thousands of British and Indian troops were killed, leading to British withdrawal.

1878 – British troops returned to major cities in Afghanistan due to fears of Russian influence and power.

1893 – The British drew the Durand Line, a border between Afghanistan and British India. This border split the Pashtun population between Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan; Afghanistan became a buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire.



Reign of King Zahir Shah (1933-1973)

King Zahir Shah was finally able to rid Afghanistan of British influence and began modernizing many aspects of Afghanistan, including government (democratic reforms), education (establishment of universities), and women’s rights.



Reign of Daoud Khan (1973-1978) – People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan ( PDPA)

Daoud Khan took over in a bloodless coup while the king was in Italy. He ended the monarchy and established a republic. However, with democratic reforms came opposition, including from intellectuals and a communist party. In 1970-71, the government was ineffective in responding to a drought, increasing domestic discontent with Daoud. Increasingly, Daoud Khan denied parties like the PDPA any participation in the government. In 1978, Daoud Khan was assassinated in a coup by the PDPA.



Soviet Invasion (1979) – Soviet Union, PDPA, Afghan Resistance

Once the PDPA, which was communist, established itself as the government of Afghanistan, the Soviets began supplying the new Communist government with advisors and , military equipment. When resistance to the new government broke out, the Soviets installed a puppet government and eventually completed a full-scale military invasion. The Soviets needed a sympathetic government in Afghanistan for several reasons. First, it needed Afghanistan as a buffer state for its many central Asian enemies: Iran, Pakistan and China. Iran was ardently anti-communist but also anti-American., so the Soviets were concerned the United States might use Afghanistan as a place for battle against Iran. Iran’s revolution had just established the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Soviets did not want to be bordered by Muslim-majority states. The US was allied with Pakistan and therefore had direct influence on Afghanistan. China and the Soviet Union had been ideological enemies for some years, and China had recently begun normalizing relations with the US. Finally, the Soviet Union had spread its empire to Central Asia, but it still had no warm water ports, and Afghanistan could have provided the next stepping stone to the Indian Ocean. All of these factors contributed to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.



Soviet Occupation and Afghan Resistance (1979-1989) – Soviet Union and the Muhajedin

After the Soviet invasion, the number of refugees in Pakistan swelled to 400,000 by 1980. Those numbers would reach over 4 million by the end of the occupation. Peshawar was a base for the opposition parties and tribal groups to organize the resistance against the Soviets. The resistance fighters, known as the muhajedin, united around a nationalist ideology and resistance to foreign domination. The muhajedin received funding and weapons from the US CIA through Pakistan, as well as from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China. The war completely destroyed many villages and towns in Afghanistan, as well as irrigation systems that were hundreds of years old. As a result, the infrastructure, economy, and political system of Afghanistan were left in shambles by the time the muhajedin were able to force the Soviets to withdraw in 1989.



Reflections on History

How does the history of Afghanistan influence the way Amir’ life develops?

Historical events have determined how people in Afghanistan relate to each other. The pride of the Pashtun people as “true” Afghans has a significant impact on the treatment of the Hazaras. Because the Hazaras are descendants of a former non-Pashtun conquerer, Genghis Ghan, they are seen as outsiders. This greatly affects Amir’s relationship with Hassan, as illustrated when Amir reflects in chapter 4 that history can never be overcome.

Amir’s place in the world as a young man affects his relationship with his father and is partly determined by Afghanistan’s history. As Amir reflects in chapter 6, Afghans are fighters. They stand up for themselves and never back down. They have a sense of pride for defeating the British and, later, the Soviets. The role of Afghan men is partly defined by this tough resistance. Because Amir does not fight back, he does not fulfill Baba’s expectations of what a young Afghan male should be like. A good example of the toughness of Afghan culture is seen in the sport of buzkashi, which consists of men on horseback striking a goat carcass with sticks. In chapter 3, Amir cries after watching a buzkashi match.

Present day Afghanistan is haunted by its history in the same way Amir is haunted by his past. What are some ways the two can be compared?

Ethnic tension between the Pashtuns and Hazaras is the result of a historical invasion. The political unrest and lack of a stable government are a result of multiple invasions and tribal conflict. Afghanistan is perpetually in a state of rebuilding from a previous war; because they do not have a stable government or economy. Afghans are susceptible to internal and external conflict. Amir’s life is similar in that he is perpetually trying to compensate for several past acts, such as inadvertently killing his mother, watching Hassan get raped, and hiding the money under Hassan’s mattress.



In the case of Afghan history and Amir’s life, external forces exert great influence over internal conflicts and development. In each case, how significant is the role of these external influences?

The geographic location of Afghanistan has made it a target for invasion by many different groups. The political and military concerns of outside forces, such as Britain and Russia, have made Afghanistan a battle ground for conflicts that existed independently of Afghanistan. The government of Afghanistan, for many years, was not able to develop Afghanistan without the interference of outside forces. Amir’s life is also greatly shaped by outside forces: the ethnic and religious differences between Hassan and him, political events that cause Amir and Baba to become refugees, and cultural expectations that affect his relationship with Baba.


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