History of Afghanistan

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The British in Afghanistan c.1830-1919

The British became the major power in the Indian sub-continent after the Treaty of Paris in 1763 but the collection of petty princes and warring tribes that made up Afghanistan did not really concern the British until the 19th-century. It was not until then that the Russian Empire began to push for an advantage in the Afghan region to place pressure on British India.

The major power in Afghanistan was Dost Mohammed Khan. Between 1818 and 1835 he had united most of the Afghan people under his rule. In 1837 the British had approached him with an alliance fearing a Russian-Persian joint conquest of Afghanistan. However the British and Dost Mohammed fell out and the British decided to invade.

In 1839 between April and August the British conquered the lowlands and the cities of Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul the capital. Dost Mohammed surrendered and was 'exiled' in India, the British set-up Shah Shuja as the new ruler. But much of the country was still in active opposition to the British, with Dost Mohammed's son Akbar Khan being especially active.

In November 1841 a senior British officer, Sir Alexander 'Sekundar' Burnes, and his aides were killed by a mob in Kabul. The substantial remaining British forces in their cantonment just outside Kabul did nothing immediately. In the following weeks the British commanders General Elphinstone and McNaghten tried to negotiate with Akbar Khan, but at a meeting McNaghten was killed. Then in January 1842 following some unusual thinking by Elphinstone the British and their folowers left Kabul to return to Peshwar. The number of people is variously estimated as 15-30,000. Despite Akbar Khan promising safe passage the British group was attacked throughout their journey. Eight days after leaving Kabul one survivor made it to Jalallabad. Shah Sujah was murdered and Dost Mohammed regained his throne, ruling until 1863.

Dost Mohammed was suceeded by his son Sher Ali (Akbar Khan died in 1845). Following an amount of in-fighting in the 1860's, Sher Ali made some approaches to the Russians, who had extended their influence in Turkmenistan. So in November 1878 the British invaded again and took Kabul again. Sher Ali fled to northern Afghanistan but died in Mazar-i-Shariff before he could organise any forces. The British appointed Shir Ali's son Yaqub Khan as successor and enforced the signing of the Treaty of Gandumak. This was a extremely unfavourable treaty and set the Afghan people against the British. In a replay of 1841 the British managed to have their Kabul garrison annihilated.

By 1881 the British had had enough, despite the victorous slaughter at the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880 - they left. The British gained some territory and retained a little influence but in a clever stroke they placed Abdur Rahman on the throne. A man of such supple loyalties that he was acceptable to the British, the Russians and the Afghan people. He ruled until 1901 and was followed by his son Habibullah.

At the Convention of St. Petersburg in 1907 Russia agreed that Afghanistan was outside her sphere of influence. Habibullah was killed by nationalists in 1919 and replaced by his son Amanullah Khan. Amanullah declared full independence and sparked the Third Anglo-Afghan War. After a rather desultory conflict the British agreed to full autonomy. In August 1919 the treaty was signed.

Recent History

In 1933 Mohammad Zahir Shah became monarch.

On 17 July 1973, while Zahir was in Italy, Mohammed Daoud Khan staged a coup with help of leftists. The monarchy was abolished and the country was renamed to the Republic of Afghanistan.

On 27 April 1978 Daoud was killed in another leftist coup.

On 1 May 1978 - Nur Mohammad Taraki (or Noor Mohammad Taraki) became president and the country was renamed to the "People's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan". Babrak Karmal and Hafizullah Amin had posts in the new government.

During Taraki's rule opposition increased from Muslim groups. There were occasionally major uprisings against the authority of his government.

On 05 December 1978, a friendship treaty was signed with the Soviet Union.

On 14 February 1979, the US Ambassador in Kabul, Adolph Dubs, was taken hostage and later killed when Hafizullah Amin ordered the police to attack. The US didn't appoint a new ambassador.

By March 1979 the soviets were assisting the Afghan government with weapons, helicopters and 500 advisors.

From 10 to 20 March the army in Herat under the control of Ismail Khan mutinied and 350 soviets were killed. The soviets bombed the city, causing massive destruction and thousands of deaths and it was recaptured with tanks and paratroopers.

The Soviets warned Iran and Pakistan not to intervene in Afghan affairs, but declined to provide troops directly to support the government. They also provided wheat after communist land reforms had reduced production in Afghanistan. There were 35 thousand Afghan refugees in Pakistan and others in Iran.

On 28 March 1979, Hafizulla Amin became prime minister, with Taraki retaining some control.

During September 1979 the Soviets attempted to change the government, plotting with Taraki to assassinate Hafizullah Amin. They failed and he took complete control on 14 September. Taraki was killed a couple of weeks later.

The Soviets decided to change the government by force, and on 27 December 1979 began a massive military airlift into Kabul, involving an estimated 280 transport aircraft and 3 divisions of almost 8500 men each. On the 27th Amin was deposed. Babrak Karmal returned from Russia to become prime minister. Amin was executed.

In mid-January 1980, the Soviet command post was relocated from Termez (on Soviet territory north of Afghanistan) to Kabul.

For the next 10 years the Soviets battled the mujahedin for control of the country. They used helicopers (including Mi-25 Hind gunships) as their primary air attack force, supported with fighter-bombers and bombers, ground troops and special forces. In some areas they conducted a scorced-earth campaign destroying villages, houses, crops, livestock etc.

The mujahedin were supplied and trained by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others.

In November 1987 Sayid Mohammad Najibullah became president.

After years of war the Soviet army was demoralized and lacked support at home. Soviet troops started to pull out of Afghanistan on 14 April 1988. A UN-mediated agreement was signed, providing for the establishment of a neutral Afghan state, but the plan was rejected by opposition groups.

The Soviets completed their withdrawal on 15 Feburary 1989. The government and opposition fought for control of the country.

In April 1992 General Abdul Rashid Dostam took control of Kabul, ousting Najibullah.

On 28 June 1992, Burhanuddin Rabbani took control, while fighting between rival groups continued. On 30 December 1992 the National Council was formed in Kabul and Rabbani was elected president. Other groups boycotted the meeting and shelled the city.

Factional fighting continued. In 1994 the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban movement emerged as major challengers to the Rabbani government. In 1996 they took control of the capital and for several years increased their control of the country.

In 1998 thousands of people were killed by earthquakes. The United States launched cruise missile attacks at suspected bases of Osama Bin Laden, after he was accused of bombing US embassies in Africa. In 1999 and again in January 2001 sanctions were imposed by the UN.

In March 2001 the Taliban destroyed giant statues of Buddha, provoking international outrage.

In addition to the continuing civil strife, the country suffered from enormous poverty, drought, a devastated infrastructure, and widespread use of landmines. These conditions led to about three to four million Afghans suffering from starvation.

By September 2001 the remaining opposition to the Taliban had been confined to the Panjshir valley and a small region in the northeast. The opposition by this time had formed the Northern Alliance but controlled less than 5% of the country. It was dealt a further blow by the assasination of the highly regarded military commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in early September. During much of September it seemed inevitable that the Taliban would soon gain complete control.

After the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack the long-running dispute with the United States over the presence of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan came to the forefront when the US accused him of organising the attack. The US demanded that he be handed over to "competent authorities". The Taliban claimed he was innocent and offered to send him to a Islamic country for trial.

On October 7, 2001 United States-led forces launched a military campaign on Afghanistan. A period of bombing followed, which for about a month appeared to be having little effect. The US required the assistance of countries around Afghanistan to provide a route for the attack, but critisism increased as various mosques, aid agencies, hospitals etc., were damaged by US bombs.

However the Northern Alliance was revitalised and assisted by US bombing captured Mazar-e Sharif on November 9. It rapidly gained control of most of northern Afghanistan and took control of Kabul on November 12 after the Taliban fled the city. The Taliban were restricted to a smaller and smaller region, with Kunduz, the last Taliban-held city in the north, captured on November 26.

The Northern Alliance and US were accused of mistreatment of prisoners, ignoring the Geneva conventions. The Northern Alliance were reportedly particularly hostile to the non-Afghan supporters of the Taliban. It was suggested that the US preferred to see as many as possible of the Taliban and al-Qaeda dead in preference to taking prisoners and attempting to prove alleged crimes in a court.

Around 28 November an uprising by prisoners at the fort of Qalai Janghi, near Mazar-e Sharif, was put down by the Northern Alliance with General Abdul Rashid Dostum in command. The US bombed the fort and up to 400 hundred were killed, with about 80 survivers found a few days later. Amnesty International called for an inquiry into the battle.

The war continued in the south of the country, where the Taliban remained in control of Kandahar.

Representatives of the Northern Alliance, the former monarch Mohammad Zahir Shar and two other Afghan exile groups attended a conference held at Bonn, organised by the UN and starting on 27 November. An accord was signed on 05 December, with donor countries making the availability of reconstruction aid conditional on an agreement. The agreement established a 30-member interim administration, to rule for six months. A supreme court was to be set up and a Loya Jirga (a traditional assembly of tribes) would elect a transitional goverment, which would establish a constitution and organise elections about two years later. A multi-national peacekeeping force would secure Kabul.

The Northern Alliance obtained the ministries of interior, defence and foreign affairs. It was agreed that the council should be headed by a Pashtun. Hamid Karzai got the job, to take office on 22 December. At the time he was leading forces besieging Kandahar and a few days later he was narrowly missed by a US bomb.

On the 05 December anti-Taleban forces were preparing to attack the Tora Bora cave complexes where bin Laden was suspected to be located.


External Links and References

HISTORY: For Ages, Afghanistan Is Not Easily Conquered, New York Times, 9/18/2001