and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
and go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Afghanistan (Dari and Pashto: افغانستان Afġānestān), officially known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Dari: امارت اسلامی افغانستان Emārat-e Eslāmi-ye Afghānestān; Pashto: د افغانستان اسلامي امارت Də Afġānistān Islāmī Imārat) or since the Taliban-led government is not recognized internationally, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Dari: جمهوری اسلامی افغانستان Jomhūrī-ye Eslāmī-ye Afġānestān; Pashto: د افغانستان اسلامي جمهوریت Da Afġānistān Islāmī Jomhoriyat), is a landlocked country located in South Asia. It is bordered by China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Afghanistan is today best known as the premier theater of The War on Terror, an international, mostly Western, counter-insurgency operation/invasion led by the United States against an array of insurgent groups, mostly the Taliban but also the Al-Qaeda (before 2011) and, since 2015, the Islamic State/Daesh.note This is the latest chapter of civil conflicts dating back to the 1970s, when Afghanistan was an important battleground during the Cold War due to its strategic location. Afghanistan has not seen peace for over forty years and, thanks to its very young population, most Afghans have only seen war all their lives.
It is in many respects comparable to Sicily, the Mediterranean island periodically occupied and conquered by empires new and old, and whose constant conquests have left a region run by tribal Feuding Families and a series of grudges among the people against one another, and a culture with a strong emphasis on "honour". Unlike Sicily, which is an island, Afghanistan is landlocked, hilly and mountainous, in the intersection of Iran, the Central Asian Steppes, and the Indian subcontinent. The land has been influenced by all kinds of societies over the millennia. It is most famous in antiquity for being the world's only source of the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli (that crumbly blueish stuff used to make ultramarine dye). During antiquity, the country was divided into four principal regions: Bactria (the northern lowlands, the name evolved into the modern province of Balkh), Arachosia (the southeast, mostly comprising the Hindu Kush and the current Pashtun homeland), Drangiana (the southern desert), and Arianote (the western lowlands, surrounding the ancient city of Herat. By the Middle Ages, it's known as Khorasan), all of which were also collectively known as Ariana. The land and the people didn't identify itself and themselves as Afghanistan and Afghanis respectively, until their triumph in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
The Sassanids lasted until the Arab conquest. The region was conquered by the Arabs in the 7th century and was ruled by them as part of the Rashidun, Umayyad, and the early years of Abbasid caliphates. Islam was proselyted among and eventually embraced by the indigenous people, though, as with Persia, it didn't stop them from breaking away and starting a ruling dynasty of their own. In the 10th century, the Turks went native, leading to Turko-Persian rule under the Ghaznavids (which took its name from the eastern city of Ghazni), the Seljuks, and the Khwarezmians. 13th century saw the Great Mongol Horde beginning their World-Dominating Campaign, which devastated the region badly, with many cities sacked or completely destroyed. Some Mongols settled and intermingled with the locals, resulting in the birth of the Hazaras. The Mongols broke up soon after and one of its pieces, the Chagatai Khanate, ruled the area. They eventually gave up distinguishing themselves and adopted Islam, just in time for Timur the Lame to begin the Second World-Dominating Campaign, although this time the region was spared and actually flourished under his rule.
Once Timur's nomadic empire broke down, the spotlight once again turned to the Persians, who recently broke free from half a millennium of foreign rule with the declaration of the Safavid Empire at the start of the 16th century, whose territories included Herat. However, their rather overzealous evangelization campaign from Sunni to Shia Islam didn't sit well with their eastern subjects. A Sunni Hotak Empire was declared during the last years of the Safavids which were able to expel the Mughals (a branch of the Timurids) from the Iranian Plateau. They were historically significant as the first Afghan dynasty whose ruling class came from what we call today the Pashtun ethnic group. Afghanistan in this era, under the Durrani dynasty, was far larger than it is now — at its height it controlled much of what is now Pakistan as well as all of Kashmir except the Siachen Glacier and the Buddhist outpost of Leh. Their territories were reduced to its modern borders on account of the rising Sikh Empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the "Lion of Punjab". Ranjit Singh's battles led to the formation of a new Sikh empire that included modern day Lahore and Peshawar.note The Durrani Empire eventually splintered on account of Feuding Families between the Barakzai and Sadozai tribes. The Sadozais, under Shah Shuja Durrani were deposed and exiled from Afghanistan to India during The Raj.
The result was a disaster. Shah Shuja Durrani's arrival wrecked the Balance of Power in the region, and the British Occupation proved incredibly unpopular from the very beginning. Small-scale uprisings ultimately led to the start of a major rebellion that led to the British besieged in local fortresses before they decided to mount an incredibly ill-planned retreat from their position in Afghanistan back to India. It was a famous bloodbath and the worst defeat in British military history until the Fall of Singapore. The British lost the Anglo-Afghan War despite mounting a major punitive expedition that saw the destruction of Kabul and its famous bazaar, an expedition that targeted not only Afghani civilians, women and children, but also the Hindu and Persian trading communities in Kabul who were caught in the middle and which the Army of Retribution (yes they really called it that) under General Pollock, did not distinguish or separate form the rest. At the end of the war, Dost Mohammed was returned to the throne, with English support, rendering the entire expedition pointless on the part of the English, and damaging to the Afghan people, who suffered harsh deprivations and impoverishment on account of the English.
In 1893, Afghanistan's current southern border was set up via an agreement with the British called the Durand Line, creating problems later. The Line cuts right through the middle of the homeland of the Pashtun, a highly tribal people who are the largest group in Afghanistan and second largest in neighboring Pakistan. Regardless of what the various governments did, the Pashtuns never gave much of a flip about the border. They still don't.
Amanullah Khan declared himself King (and Afghanistan a kingdom) in the mid-1920's. He was the first Afghan leader to attempt to modernize the country, proposing a number of reformsnote . This upset the more religiously conservative tribal factions (including a lot of fundamentalists) who staged multiple uprisings beginning in 1923. Amanullah himself was forced to abdicate in 1929 after losing the loyalty of Pashtun tribes on both sides of the Durand Line and, by extension, the Army. Most of his reform proposals died with him (the abolition of slavery being a major exception).
1929 was a chaotic year for Afghanistan. After Amanullah Khan abdicated following an uprising in Kabul, he was succeeded by his brother Inayatullah, who managed to reign for all of three days before being overthrown by Habibullah Kalakani, a fundamentalist Tajik. Pashtun tribal leaders may not have liked Amanullah's pro-European reforms, but they really didn't like the idea of being ruled by a Tajik, so Kalakani was overthrown and unceremoniously executed by Mohammed Nadir Khan (later Shah), a distant relative of the previous King who took the throne for himself. Nadir sought to placate the religious conservatives and regain their support by stopping reforms.
Nadir Shah was assassinated in 1933. He was succeeded by his son Mohammed Zahir Shah. Those of you who paid close attention in the early days of the War on Terror might remember him. Zahir Shah ruled Afghanistan for the next four decades, bring an era of relative peace and stability to the fractious kingdom. Incidentally, he (eventually) restarted the kingdom's modernization understandable since he finished his education in Paris. This led to Kabul becoming a cultural center for the first time since the days of the old Silk Road. He also continued the efforts of his predecessors in reaching out to the rest of the world, establishing relations with several countries, including the United States. Many of his reforms were, however, stymied by conservative tribal opposition and political infighting.
Note the word "relative" in the preceding paragraph. In 1947, "Pakistan" (Punjab-Afghan-Kashmir-Indus-Sind-Baleuchistan) was created from the former Briitsh Indian Raj and the Afghan government announced they no longer recognized the Durand Line - making claims to Pakistani-Afghan territory ranging from the Indus all the way to Northern Pakistan though they really just wanted back the Pashtun tribal areas that they had claimed all along. In the 1950s, they tried border attacks. Now, this was not the brightest idea, as Pakistan's Army at the time was a force which had been recently part of Kipling's Finest, with troops who had fought and won two world wars in three decades. So it went about as well as you'd expect. In 1962, the Afghans tried a much larger effort and got absolutely shellacked. Afghans are still a little sore about that (whereas most Pakistanis have no idea the battles ever happened). Afghanistan also lent overt support to the East Turkestan separatist movement in the Xinjiang autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. It went considerably less well than the efforts to cross the Durand line.
Infighting between various Communist factions led to the Soviet Union intervening to restore order in 1979. The Soviets were not going to let a state in their sphere of influence go capitalist, and they were especially not going to let it go Islamic-fundamentalist as was happening in Iran. The Soviet prosecution of the War in Afghanistan differed from earlier counter-insurgency efforts in that there was no forcible relocation of populations from areas thought to be supporting the insurgency, as had helped immensely in the immediate post-WWII elimination of Fascist partisans in Belarus and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in western Ukraine. However, perhaps a third of the population fled to Pakistan, facilitating the exchange of personnel and material between the two. The USA provided much of said material through Pakistan, arming and funding the Mujahideen - a hodgepodge of different factions united in fighting the Soviets.
The US provision of MANPADS (man portable air defense systems) to the Mujahideen forced the Soviet Army to abandon the use of helicopters to support light infantry patrols with gunfire and medical evacuation. This caused a spike in deaths and wounds to a level which was politically unsustainable for the Union, to the point that Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US National Security Advisor at the time, asserted that for the USSR the conflict had become "its Vietnam War". The Soviets withdrew in 1989, leaving a coherent and stable Communist state that sustained itself until 1992, but the civil war continued. This time, it was mainly between the Taliban (originally made of religious schools of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, aided by Al-Qaeda and headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar) and the Northern Alliance and its main man Ahmad Shah Massoud, known in the region as the "Afghan who won the Cold War".
The Emirate instituted Sharia law, obligatory use of the burqa for women, destroyed the country's non-Islamic monuments and cultural artefacts, and did other unpleasant things. The same year the Emirate was proclaimed, it also welcomed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, after his expulsion from Sudan, following pressure by Saudi Arabia (which designated him persona non grata in 1994, as he was a critic of the country's alliance with the West), Egypt (which accused him of being linked to a plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak), and the United States. Al-Qaeda was formed in 1988 after an ideological split from Maktab al-Khidamat, an organization bin Laden co-founded during the Soviet-Afghan War to channel Arab support for the war. This was because al-Khidamat mainly served as a financial and arms support for the insurgents, while bin Laden favored a direct military force.
Meanwhile, Massoud continued to rule a rump state in the north, the United Islamic National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, better known as the Northern Alliance, where he had established democratic institutions and tried to give equal-gender rights, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of refugees that fled the Taliban to areas controlled by Massoud. During this period, most of the world, including the UN, recognized the Northern Alliance as the legitimate Afghan government, even after it had been reduced to controlling less than 10% of the country (mainly comprising Badakhshan Province) on the eve of the American invasion, while the Islamic Emirate was recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Massoud tried to obtain help from external powers and, in 2001, even tried to warn them of a possible large-scale attack on the USA by Al-Qaeda, to no avail.
On September 9, 2001, Massoud was assassinated by two affiliates of Taliban and al-Qaeda claiming to be reporters, who killed Massoud with bombs hidden in their filming equipment. Two days later, Al-Qaeda launched the September 11 attacks. The USA demanded the Taliban hand over the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, and disband Al-Qaedas forces in the area (by then, Al-Qaeda was already a state within a state). After the predictable refusal, the USA successfully obtained the United Nations' permission to invade the country and disband the Taliban.
The Bush administration had hoped for a compliant puppet in Karzai, but ended up with a corrupt Spanner in the Works instead. Karzai's official Afghan federal government had been superficial and ineffectual, as its inability to engage in the production of heroin for export meant that its opponents had access to an immensely valuable source of revenue which it did not. UN (chiefly US) funding, trainers, personnel, and weapons+equipment for the federal government had been effectively checked. Donations had been forthcoming from wealthy parties within Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states, training and combat power had been provided by mercenaries hired using heroin and charity funds, and weapons+equipment had been bought from traders in neighboring states or even from within the country itself. Perhaps the greatest problem facing the federal government had been the ability of its opponents to corrupt local and regional administrations, creating a number of areas which were not definitively under the control of either party and which could seemingly change hands overnight. In 2014, a botched presidential election to replace Karzai nearly erupted in yet another war before the two main candidates reached an agreement and power was handed to current president Ashraf Ghani, who was reelected in 2019.
Unlike Iraq, the War on Terror in Afghanistan was very much still a work in progress. While the Ba'athists have been rendered powerless since the Iraq War, the Taliban was still active, growing, and exerting support from some Afghanis vindictive against the international community for dragging the war indefinitely.note The Taliban had taken advantage of Pashtuns' traditional disdain of the Durand Line to launch attacks from across the border in Pakistan. Meanwhile, groups affiliated with the Islamic State infiltrated the northern border in 2015 and are operating in Nangarhar Province, where they were opposed by both the UN-backed government and the Taliban.
In 2018, the Trump administration and the Taliban began talks for a ceasefire and a peace treaty, with the US pulling troops from the country on the condition that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists. The talks had come and gone many times, as the Taliban refused to talk to the UN-backed government, which they saw as a Western puppet, while the US considered intra-Afghan talks as key to any peace. In May 2021, the Biden administration announced that it would pull all US troops from the country by September 11, 2021, the vicenary of the US World Trade Center attacks that marked the start of the War on Terror, leaving the UN-backed government to deal with the Taliban on its own. The US officially completed the withdrawal of all of its troops on August 31, 2021.
In a shocking reversal of fortunes, though, the Taliban didn't need even to wait for the US's complete withdraw before jumping back into the fray. In May 2021, they had held a sizeable minority of the country's provinces, but by August, they had completely steamrolled the Afghan army and police forces. The national forces, despite huge advantages in numbers and material, simply melted away, deserting their posts and abandoning entire cities, often without firing a shot. By August 15, the Taliban forces entered Kabul to zero resistance, taking the presidential palace and government buildings with the President himself having fled the country.
Within hours, announcements were made for a formal transition of power as the Afghan government surrendered unconditionally. Remnants of government fighters, joined by Ahmad Massoud, son of the departed leader of the Northern Alliance, held out in the Panjshir Province for several weeks, until the Taliban came in early September and captured the provincial capital, forcing them to flee. All this meant that the efforts of the US military and their international partners to form a democratic government that served the country and its people over the past twenty years were completely undone.
To confront these problems, the Taliban has tried to remedy its PR issues by presenting a more open-minded image, but it's unknown how true this promise will hold, as it has begun clamping down on women's rights (albeit not yet to the same extent as its first reign, e.g., girls are still allowed to go to school, but gender segregation is practiced). It also invited fleeing Afghans to return to the country by promising that they will not face reprisals, though the call has yielded little success. On top of policy issues, the Taliban also has to deal with the Islamic State, who is still working to subvert any government not aligned to its views, even if that government is the Taliban (whom it thinks is too soft).
The second largest ethnic group, the Tajiks, mainly live in the north and west (in the ancient provinces of Bactria and Aria). They are a subset of Persians who live east of Herat; the term was first used by early Turks to refer to Persian-speaking Muslims, and it used to be pejorative. They speak a Persian dialect called Dari, which is mutually intelligible to Iranian Persian, although it tends to incorporate more archaic vocabulary, and its loanwords are predominantly from English rather than French. The reason their language is called Dari is because their Pashtun overlords wanted to distance them from their Iranian brethren, appropriating a term that originally had no connection with the Tajiks. (Dari referred to the courtly language of the pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty of the Sassanids, Zaban-i-Dari, while Zaban-i-Farsi was the language of the common people.) The term was promoted by the Barakzai dynasty in the 1960s, but many Tajiks are resistant to the appellation, continuing to call their language "Persian" or "Farsi". The same issue occurs in Tajikistan, where the national language, another Persian dialect, is called "Tajik", because its former colonizer, the Soviets, wanted to distance it from Persian-speaking people outside their control.
The third largest ethnic group, Hazaras, are descendants of Mongols and Turks who intermarried with the locals, shifted to speak a Mongolian/Turkic-influenced Persian, and adopted Shia Islam, a legacy of Safavid control over the land. The community has historically suffered marginalization and racism from others. Their homeland is called the Hazarajat, located in the heart of the country, centered around the provinces of Bamiyan, Daykundi, and Ghor.
Other ethnic groups include the Uzbeks, Aimaqs/nomadic Tajiks, Turkmens, Baloch, Nuristanis, Pamiris, and Kyrgyz. The Nuristanis were formerly pagan, until they were proselytized to Islam by Abdur Rahman Khan, the guy who negotiated the Durand Line with the British; before the conversion, their homeland, Nuristan ("land of light"), was called Kafiristan ("land of the infidels"). Their languages actually form a distinct third branch within Indo-Iranian, meaning they are equally distinct from Iranian languages like Pashto as they are from Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi. The Pamiris of Badakhshan, alongside the Pashtuns, are one of the last remnants of Eastern Iranian-speaking people that used to be widespread in Central Asia. They include the nomads of the Wakhan Corridor, a panhandle jutting out of the northeastern corner of the country, separating Pakistan from Tajikistan and giving Afghanistan a small border with China. The Pamiris have been traditional adherents of Nizari Ismailismnote since the 11th century.
Contrary to popular perception, Afghanistan has a well-established Arab community that dates back to the Middle Ages. They have, however, been long assimilated into the Tajik population and no longer speak Arabic. The misconception is because of the so-called "Afghan Arabs", foreign Muslims who came to Afghanistan to help the mujahideen during their fight against the Soviets in the 1980s. Many of them weren't even Arabs and did not speak Arabic as their first language, although some were (the most famous being Osama bin Laden).
Although Afghanistan is almost entirely Muslim, there is a tiny percentage (less than 1%) of people practicing other faiths. They consist of around sixteen thousand or so Baháʼís, several thousand Christians and Sikhs, and a couple hundred Hindus. Non-Muslim presence has significantly diminished since the civil war; before then, as much as 16% of the population were non-Muslims. It also briefly gained attention in the West for the presence of a single Jew in the late 2000s and 2010s, who refused to leave even during the height of the first Taliban rule. However, he departed for Israel when the group retook the country in 2021.
Most Afghans have Only One Name, as surname is not required by law.note However, a lot of Afghans belong to clans, since clan politics is a reality in the country. Some people choose to use their clan name as their surname while traveling abroad, even though it's not a surname per se. Tribal names from Pashtunistan tend to incorporate "-zai" (e.g., Barakzai, Achakzai, Yousafzai), which means "son of" in Pashto.
Despite all the problems, the country is still a marvelous tourist site. Youd be surprised how much Scenery Porn you can get from a bunch of mountains and sand. Monuments are a fair game, too, especially if you're interested in Persian and Turco-Mongol architecture as can be seen in the mosques and shrines. The country used to host one of the largest Buddhist statues in the world: the Bamyan Buddha. However, the Taliban blew it up in 2001.
Afghanistan in media:
Anime & Manga
- Black Lagoon: Balalaika, leader of the local branch of The Mafiya, is a veteran of the Soviet intervention. So are all of her top underlings. It messed them up pretty bad. In spite of the mental and physical scars they endured there, the combat experience they garnered has resulted in them arguably being the deadliest faction in the series.
- Sooraya Qadir, a.k.a. Dust from X-Men, is Afghan.
- Afganskiy Izlom
- The Beast
- Baran: a 2001 Iranian film which portrays Afghan refugees working as cheap labour in a construction site.
- Charlie Wilson's War
- Iron Man: Afghanistan is now the setting of Tony Stark's origin story to reflect the geopolitical situation of the time of the film's release. Ho Yinsen, Tony Stark's mentor figure, is re-imagined as a Pashtun, while he was Vietnamese in the comics.note
- The Living Daylights: James Bond is brought to the country at the time of the Soviet-Afghan war and teams up with the Mujahideen to ruin the drug smuggling operations of a Renegade Russian.
- The Man Who Would Be King
- 9th Company
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Dastan and Tamina visit the Hindu Kush mountains in the second act.
- Rambo III: John Rambo goes One-Man Army on the Soviets to help the Mujahideen.
- Spies Like Us
- Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
- The Cardinal of the Kremlin
- Full Metal Panic!: Sousuke's Dark and Troubled Past begins in the battlefields of Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. The anime, due to debuting less than a year after 9/11, changed the country's name to the fictional "Helmajistan."
- The Man Who Would Be King
- Most of the novels of Khaled Hosseini:
- Zinky Boys
- The Breadwinner
- A Study in Scarlet: The novel opens with Dr Watson returning from service in Afghanistan, and the first clue we have of Sherlock Holmes's remarkable powers is that immediately on seeing Watson, he knew he had been in Afghanistan.
- Bomb Patrol Afghanistan
- Kaboul Kitchen
- The Brave: Episode 4 is based off of the 2001 Mazar-e-Sharif prison uprising, though the episode itself is set in 2017.
- SEAL Team: Thanks to the show's Ripped from the Headlines story structure, Afghanistan is a frequent mission location for the series.
- Season 1 Episode 9 takes place on the China-Afghanistan border region, where the SEALs must help a Russian defector and his wife cross the border and meet up with U.S. forces ready to evacuate them. The second half of the season takes place entirely in Afghanistan as the team is on a long-term deployment to find out who orchestrated the deaths of fellow SEAL unit Echo Team.
- In Season 3 Episode 17, Bravo Team again deploys to Afghanistan to provide security during the U.S. military's drawdown from the region due to a pending peace agreement with the Taliban.
- Bravo returns to the country again in Season 5 Episode 7 to rescue a CIA agent who was left behind in the U.S.'s disastrous withdrawal from the country and is being held by the Taliban. Ray half-jokes that they spend more time in Afghanistan than they do with their families.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Call of Duty: Black Ops II
- Command & Conquer: Generals (tutorial mission only)
- Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
- Medal of Honor (2010 reboot)
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Syphon Filter 3
- Splinter Cell: Blacklist
The Afghan national anthem
- Unitary presidential Islamic republic
- President: Amrullah Saleh
- 1st Vice President: vacant
- 2nd Vice President: Sarwar Danish
Due to TV Tropes's policy regarding terrorist material, we will recognize only the UN-backed government and their symbols.
- Capital and largest city: Kabul
- Population: 32,225,560
- Area: 652,230 km² (251,830 sq mi) (40th)
- Currency: Afghan afghani (؋) (AFN)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: AF
- Country calling code: 93
- Highest point: Noshakh (7492 m/24,580 ft) (6th)
- Lowest point: Amu Darya (258 m/846 ft) (64th)