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fghan lands have always been a touchstone for the great empires of the time throughout history. From the Persians, Macedonians, and Kushans to the British, Soviets, and Americans, they all encountered Afghan resistance, which crushed foreign troops who set foot in this country like a stone mixer. The geographical position of the country has attracted like a magnet to the great powers throughout history.

High priority location

Due to its location, today’s territory of Afghanistan has been coveted and occupied throughout history by some of the largest empires. Among those who occupied the region were the Persians, led by Darius the Great (522–486 BC). Then, Alexander the Great occupied this territory in 329 BC. Hr.). Later, the province is occupied by the Kusama monarchy (1st century BC-5th century AD). It was not long before the Arabs gained control of Afghanistan and imposed Islam on the territory. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the country was destroyed by the Mongol invasion (1222) led by Genghis Khan, then by Tamerlane, and the territory was divided between Iran and the Mongol Empire. It was not until 1747 that the pastoral Afghans established a state at the head of which they formally appointed a king.

In the 19th century, the British Empire tried to conquer Afghanistan, starting in India. Between 1839 and 1842, the British failed to subdue the Afghan tribes. A second attempt by the British Crown (1878–1880) to subdue Afghanistan was a success. Finally, in 1919, Britain withdrew from Afghanistan, forced by an insurgency by provincial tribes. In 1919, the Afghan monarchy was recognized as independent.

A border set up by the British Empire in Afghanistan in 1840 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

After the end of the war with the British, the only conflicts known to the Afghan people were the internal ones. One king dethroned another, and changing the ruler was a habit. With the exception of Zahir Shah (1933–1973), none of the kings brought significant changes to the Afghans. King Zahir managed to put an end to inter-ethnic conflicts, promulgate a constitution that provided political rights to Afghan women for the first time, and establish a legislature.

The Soviet Invasion

Afghanistan’s current problems began almost 40 years ago. In 1973, the king’s cousin, Daoud, staged a coup, proclaiming Afghanistan a republic and making him president. In the short period of Daoud’s rule, Afghanistan has enjoyed revenues from oil and gas exports. On April 27, 1978, Daoud was overthrown and assassinated by communists (the Sawr revolution) grouped around the Afghan People’s Democratic Party (PDPA).

Afghans waited outside the Kabul central Pulicharkhi prison on January 14, 1980, days after the Moscow-installed regime of Babrak Karmal took over. (Source: Reddit)

However, internal conflicts led to the party’s fracture. The leaders of one faction — Parcham — were expelled, while the other faction, Khalq (the masses), led by Noor Mohammed Taraki, took power. Taraki began to secularize the country by striking Islam. Its radical reforms sparked local riots and armed uprisings, with government troops defeating resistance groups several times.

The two military superpowers, the USSR and the USA, were also involved in all this civil war, the first supporting the power and the second the opposition, the mujahideen. As Afghan internal strife escalated, the Soviet Union felt compelled to help the threatened communist regime and invaded the country on December 27, 1979. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev believed troops could withdraw in about six months.

The Soviets removed the entire Afghan leadership and installed Babrak Kamal as leader of the Parcham faction, overturning Taraki’s unpopular measures and declaring allegiance to Islam. But the presence of foreign troops on Afghan territory had already sparked a national uprising. The Soviet army responded by destroying crops and livestock to cut off the supply of the resistance movement.

USA’s Reaction

The United States, as in the case of Vietnam, feared the spread of communism in the world. The first steps taken by the Jimmy Carter administration were peaceful, a boycott of the Moscow Olympics and the cancellation of trade agreements with Brezhnev. In 1980, the United States decided to intervene in the theater of operations. The Americans participated in the war through the Afghan resistance.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser, was sent to negotiate with Pakistan to deliver weapons to the Afghan opposition. Thus began the cooperation between the mujahedeen (“Soldiers of God”) and the Americans. The CIA sent weapons to the Pakistani secret services that supplied the mujahideen. The camp of those who supported the mujahideen expanded and included Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. During the 1980s, the involvement of the two superpowers increased. The United States has supplied thousands of tons of weapons to the Muhajids. The USSR sent more than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan.

By the mid-1980s, more than five million men, women, and children — a third of Afghanistan’s population — had emigrated to Pakistan, Iran, and other countries in one of the world’s largest post-World War II exoduses. Russian bombing of Afghan villages has claimed nearly a million lives. The war in Afghanistan proved to be one of the most costly and lasted longer than Brezhnev hoped.

Michail Gorbachev and Ronald Raegan (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Following meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev, which discussed the issue of disarmament and the signing of several treaties, it was decided to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 1989.

The strategic importance of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is under the influence of the great powers: to the north Russia, to the east China, to the south-southeast India, to the south-southwest Iran and to the west Europe. To these is added the USA. Being in these positions, each of them can have a very strong influence on others. Afghanistan is also at the confluence of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam (the latter being the youngest and most dynamic religion today).

Aftermath in a village along the Salang Highway was shelled and destroyed during fights between Mujahideen guerrillas and Afghan soldiers in Salang, Afghanistan. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Afghanistan borders Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. With Pakistan, which was British-ruled until 1947, had disagreements since the late 19th century over the Durand Line, which separated the ethnic pastures on either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border. He also had strained relations with other neighbors due to the waves of refugees who crossed the border for fear of the conflicts that are always present in Afghanistan or the export of terrorism practiced by Al-Qaeda.

It has a multiethnic population of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, between whom there have always been tensions. The 31 million inhabitants are mostly Muslims. The Pashtun group has dominated other ethnic groups throughout history.

Natural Resources worth Trillions of dollars

According to the New York Times, a mixed team of US military and geologists have discovered trillion-dollar mineral resources in Afghanistan. These would be enough to bring about radical changes in the Afghan economy and probably in the unfolding of the war itself. The reserves are of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and metals used in industry, such as lithium, the existence of which was not known, are very large and include many minerals crucial for the development of modern industry. Thus Afghanistan can be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, according to US administration officials.

Figure from the New York Times showing the areas of specific minerals found in Afghanistan, their quantity as well as value at which they are estimated (Source: Afghanistan Now)

The New York Times reports that an internal Pentagon note states that Afghanistan could become “Saudi lithium,” an important raw material for battery manufacturing. “There is enormous potential here,” General David H. Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in an interview. “There are many conditions, of course, but I think the potential is very high,” he added.

Mineral deposits are spread across the country, including in the southern and eastern regions on the border with Pakistan, where US forces have fought fiercely against the Taliban insurgency.

This forsaken land had witnessed only violence and war throughout most of its history. This is just another example that should prove to us how the other powerful nations are abusing such 3rd world countries, as well as how lucky we are to be born in a land untouched by war for many years.

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