The conflict in Afghanistan
End of an empire
In 1917 the king of Afghanistan, Amanullah, declared his country’s full independence of the British by signing a treaty with Lenin and declaring war on Britain. Britain conceded Afghanistan’s independence. In 1973, the king was overthrown and a republic was declared by a prominent member of his own family, Daoud, who installed a Socialist government, winning the support of the USSR.
Conflict ensued between different factions. Conservative Islamic leaders and other ethnic leaders of mainly Pashtuns formed the Mujahedeen and began an armed revolt. The Soviet Union sent in troops to support the failing Afghan army and fight the Mujahedeen. By 1980 the Mujahedeen were supported by Pakistan, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US enabling them to intensify their fighting against the Soviets and the Soviet-backed ruling party.
After seven years of war nearly half of the Afghan population were internally displaced or had become refugees in Iran, Pakistan, or further afield in Europe and the US.
Fall of the Soviets
By 1989 the Soviet army was forced to leave. Despite hundreds of thousands of Afghans dying, the war continued as the Mujahadeen attempted to overthrow the Communist government. Another three years of war ensued before the Communist government fell.
However the fall of the Communist government did not bring peace. The fighting continued, except now between rival militia groups, trying to fill the power vacuum. Civil war began, as different groups vied for control.
The birth of the Taliban
Out of this emerged the Taliban, a strong political and religious force in the South, which recruited members through its religious schools and installed law and order through force and violence.
By 1996 the Taliban had taken control of Kabul and introduced a strict interpretation of Sharia law. Within a year the Taliban had taken control of two thirds of the country and created a totalitarian and oppressive regime.
9/11 and the “War on Terror”
The US and UK accused Bin laden and al-Qaida of staging the September 11th attacks. In retaliation, they launched air strikes against Afghanistan. Within 3 months opposition forces led by the US and UK took control of Kabul and pushed out the Taliban in the areas surrounding Kabul, forcing them to retreat to the South and the border with Pakistan. Hamid Karzai was sworn in as head of the government.
For the first years of the millennium billions of dollars of aid were pledged by governments in Europe and the US.
In 2004 Hamid Karzai was elected with 55 per cent of the vote in Afghanistan’s first Presidential election , but few voted owing to security fears. Within two years NATO had full control of military operations in the south of Afghanistan. They were met with strong resistance by powerful Taliban forces in this region.
Over the next few years, opium production rocketed to a record high, suicide bombers attacked both civilians and figures of governmental authority and the Taliban enabled the release of hundreds of insurgents from a prison while increasing numbers of troops were sent from dozens of NATO countries.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and is one of the top ten failed states. It’s the most dangerous place on earth for a woman to give birth and one in seven infants won’t live to see their fifth birthday. The majority of the country can’t read or write and most people won’t make it to 45. Poverty is rife and violence is still a common occurrence in people’s lives. 90% of the world’s opium is produced in Afghanistan and both Taliban and regional warlords have a history of drug trafficking.