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Roots of Terrorism
teachers guide

Afghanistan Timeline: 1747-2001
By Larry P. Goodson © 2002

Early History

When the Soviets Intervened

Afghanistan Today

Repairing a Country


1747: Afghanistan Founded
The current country of Afghanistan was founded by Ahmad Shah Durrani, who originally created a kingdom of Afghans, or Pushtuns.

1838-1842: First Anglo-Afghan War
Britain invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to put a friendly ruler on the throne. In one of the most infamous defeats in British military history, virtually its entire army in Kabul was wiped out in a withdrawal to Jalalabad in December 1841.

1878-1880: Second Anglo-Afghan War
Continued British concerns about Russia in Central Asia prompted another British invasion to secure a government in Kabul that was friendly to Britain. The Treaty of Gandamak (1879) gave Britain control over Afghanistan's foreign relations. Amir Abdur Rahman (ruled 1880-1901), son of an earlier Afghan king, assumed the throne and brought hostilities to an end in 1880. He put down numerous revolts and created the foundations of the modern Afghan state.

November 1893: Durand Agreement
An agreement was made between the British government in India and Abdur Rahman that set the boundary between Afghanistan and British India. The Durand Line is the present border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

1919: Amanullah and the Third Anglo-Afghan War
Abdur Rahman was succeeded by his son Habibullah (1901-1919), who was assassinated in 1919. Habibullah was followed by his son Amanullah (1919-1929), who fought a brief war with Britain that achieved Afghanistan's full independence. Amanullah wanted to reform and modernize Afghanistan in much the way that Kemal Ataturk of Turkey and Mohammad Reza of Iran were doing. He introduced a liberal constitution, founded foreign language schools, and established relations with major European countries. Traditional leaders in the rural areas and mountains resisted the modernization in several revolts.

1929: Year of Upheaval
Habibullah Kalakani (also known as Bacha Saqqao, the Tajik warlord of Kohistan) drove Amanullah from the throne and ruled Kabul for 10 months. In late 1929 Habibullah was defeated and executed by a Pushtun tribal army led by the former commander of Amanullah's army, Mohammad Nadir Shah, who subsequently became king (1929-1933).

1933: Zahir Shah Becomes King
Afghanistan's last king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, took the throne at the age of 18 after his father, Mohammad Nadir Shah, was assassinated. Although he would reign for 40 years, for much of that period the government was run by other members of his family who were careful to not promote too much modernization that might upset the fragile relationship between Kabul and the conservative countryside.

1947: The British Partition of India
The British Partition of India in 1947 upset the regional balance. The new state of Pakistan to Afghanistan's south saw the Durand Line as its border, but the Afghan government disagreed, arguing that it had been established under British pressure and that it was inappropriate because it divided the Pushtun people between the two countries. The "Pushtunistan" question plagued Afghan-Pakistani relations off and on thereafter. The withdrawal of Britain from South Asia and the rise of the Cold War brought Afghanistan gradually under the shadow of the Soviet Union in the 1950s, as the United States government was unwilling to match Soviet influence in the country.

1959: Women Permitted to Drop the Veil
Under the leadership of Muhammad Daoud, Zahir Shah's cousin and prime minister (1953-1963), Afghanistan pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union (in response to closer U.S. ties with Pakistan) and adopted modernist reforms in the cities, most notably allowing women to drop the chaderi (veil, also known as the burqa) in 1959.

1963-1973: Democratic Decade
Zahir Shah forced Daoud to step down in 1963 due to a crisis with Pakistan over the Pushtunistan issue. In 1964 Zahir Shah announced a new constitution that paved the way for democracy in Afghanistan at a time when virtually all the other countries in the Islamic world were struggling under authoritarian governments. The Afghan constitution provided for a bicameral parliament, free elections, political parties, and freedom of the press. During this period, a culture war in the urban areas played out between an emerging Communist party (the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, or PDPA) and an equally young Islamist movement.

July 1973: Republic of Afghanistan Declared
Daoud deposed Zahir Shah in a 1973 coup backed by the leftists and declared Afghanistan to be a republic. He then cracked down on the Islamist movement and attempted to gradually move away from the Soviet Union. His efforts in the late 1970s to purge his leftist supporters would prompt the Communist coup in 1978.

April 1978: Communist Coup
The PDPA seized power in April 1978 and killed Daoud and much of his family. The PDPA was divided into two major factions, Khalq (Masses) and Parcham (Banner). Khalqi leaders Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin controlled the new government, purged their Parchami rivals, issued a number of radical decrees (cancellation of mortgages, equal rights for women, land tenure reform), and engaged in mass arrests and executions. Amin killed Taraki in October 1979 and took complete control of the government, but unrest in the countryside grew into a nationwide rebellion in 1979. Increasing numbers of Soviet advisers failed to quell the revolt, so Leonid Brezhnev's government in Moscow decided to intervene more forcefully by the end of 1979.

Dec. 25, 1979: Soviet Invasion
On Christmas Day of 1979, the U.S.S.R. airlifted the first of what would eventually be 115,000 troops into Afghanistan, killed Amin, and replaced him with Parchami leader Babrak Karmal (1980-1986). The Soviet intervention transformed the rebellion into a war of national liberation that drew on a tradition of rural resistance to the impositions of the central state. The world's largest refugee population fled to Pakistan and Iran (almost 6 million by the mid-1980s), and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia led an international effort to support a squabbling band of resistance groups (mujahedeen, or holy warriors) based in Pakistan. The 1980s brought nothing but horribly destructive war in Afghanistan. More than 1 million people were killed and there was widespread destruction to the country's physical infrastructure. The Soviets lost over 13,000 soldiers, as well as the war and their empire.

May 1986: Najibullah Replaces Karmal
In a failed effort to find a more popular leader, the Soviet Union replaced Babrak Karmal with State Security Service leader Najibullah.

April 14, 1988: Geneva Accords Signed
U.N.-led negotiations between Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S.S.R., and the U.S. that had begun in 1982 finally concluded and paved the way for a Soviet withdrawal, which was completed in February 1989. However, Soviet military and economic support that propped up the Najibullah government continued until the U.S.S.R. collapsed in January 1992.

April 1992: Fall of the Communist Government
The Najibullah government fell in April 1992, but the various mujahedeen factions and ethnic militias could not agree on a power-sharing arrangement and soon fell into factional fighting over Kabul and several other places, while the country was divided into unofficial zones controlled by powerful warlords. Jabha-yi Najat-i Milli-yi Afghanistan (NLF) leader Sibghatullah Mujaddidi was interim president from April to June, when the interim presidency was assumed by Jam'iat-i Islami-yi Afghanistan leader Burhannudin Rabbani, who managed to extend his term of office at the expense of his main rival, Hizb-i Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

March 7, 1993: Islamabad Accord Signed
Under pressure from Pakistan and other interested countries, most of the main mujahedeen leaders signed an agreement naming Rabbani president for 18 months and Hekmatyar prime minister, but fighting between the various factions resumed almost immediately. Open war between the factions of each rival worsened in 1994, as Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum joined Hekmatyar and the Iran-backed Hazara party Hizb-i Wahdat in an effort to topple Rabbani's regime.

November 1994: Taliban Appear
In the summer of 1994 the Taliban movement of Islamist students emerged in reaction to widespread lawlessness in the south. Trained in the madrassas (religious schools) of Pakistan and led by a former mujahedeen, Mohammad Omar, the Taliban were also linked to elements in the Pakistani government and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Thereafter the Taliban gained control of almost all of Afghanistan, beginning with their capture of Afghanistan's second city, Kandahar, the heart of the Pushtun area from which they drew much of their strength. The Taliban defeated Hekmatyar and killed Hizb-i Wahdat leader Abdul Ali Mazari in their spring 1995 offensive toward Kabul, but then were driven back by Rabbani's forces, which were led by legendary northern commander Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Sept. 5, 1995: Taliban Capture Herat
Turning to the northwest, the Taliban captured Afghanistan's third-largest city, Herat. The growing strength and popularity of the Taliban prompted Rabbani and Hekmatyar to form a new government, and Hekmatyar arrived in Kabul as the prime minister in May 1996.

Sept. 27, 1996: Taliban Capture Kabul
Following a lightning strike east to take Jalalabad in early September, the Taliban captured Kabul and assumed control of the government. Rabbani, Hekmatyar, and Massoud all fell to northern Afghanistan. When the Taliban gained Jalalabad in 1996 they began a partnership with Saudi Arabian terrorist financier Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization that was based in that area. Over the next few years, the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus became more puritanical and intolerant of Afghanistan's northern minorities, and increasingly larger numbers of Pakistani "volunteers" joined the movement.

May 1997: Taliban Attack Northern Afghanistan
Taliban battlefield successes pushed the forces of Massoud, Dostum, and the Hizb-i Wahdat together in late 1996, but the defection of Dostum's lieutenant Abdul Malik allowed the Taliban to take the northern capital of Mazar-i-Sharif in May 1997. Local forces successfully counterattacked within days, killing thousands of Taliban.

August-September 1998: Taliban Capture Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan
With significant assistance from Pakistani volunteers and Osama bin Laden's brigade, the Taliban drove into the north and mountainous center of the country in the summer and early fall of 1998, capturing Mazar-i-Sharif in August and Bamiyan in September. Massoud held out in the northeast, but by the end of the year, the Taliban controlled 90 percent of the country. The killing of Iranian diplomats in the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif sparked tensions with Iran that led that country to close its border with Afghanistan and mobilize over 200,000 troops. The August bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blamed on bin Laden's group and led to U.S. cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan later that month.

March 1999: Ashkhabad Talks Fail
U.N.-brokered talks in March between the Taliban and Northern Alliance failed, which led to new fighting throughout 1999. In October the Pakistani army, led by General Pervaiz Musharraf, toppled the government headed by Nawaz Sharif and temporarily closed the border with Afghanistan, prompting the Taliban to reopen relations with Iran in November 1999. The years 2000 and 2001 brought more rounds of fighting, punctuated by unsuccessful U.N. efforts to bring about peace. Gradually the Taliban gained ground in the northeast and tightened the noose around Massoud's remaining forces.

Sept. 9, 2001: Massoud Assassinated
Two suicide bombers from Al Qaeda killed Massoud, followed by a Taliban offensive against his forces.

Sept. 11, 2001: Al Qaeda Attacks United States
Four U.S. passenger jets were hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, causing both of the Twin Towers to collapse, and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. One jet crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Some 3,000 people were killed. The U.S. responded by declaring "war on terrorism" and demanding that the Taliban give up bin Laden and his organization. The Taliban failed to do so, and the U.S. brought together a multinational coalition of forces (including Pakistan, which chose to side with the U.S. and abandon the Taliban). Using air power, special operations troops, and massive support for the Northern Alliance forces, the U.S. engineered a rapid collapse of the Taliban army, culminating in the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance on Nov. 13, 2001. The U.N.-sponsored Bonn Agreement, signed on Dec. 5, 2001, produced the framework for an interim government and a process for making the transition to a permanent government. The interim government, headed by Pushtun tribal leader Hamid Karzai, took power on Dec. 22, 2001.

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