Know your enemy: a brief history of Afghanistan

Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War (lived in China during the 6th century BC), wrote, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

About 330 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the region we now know of as Afghanistan after he defeated the Persians. Even after his conquest, Afghan tribes rebelled while others watched to see what would happen. Alexander, who was on his way to India, turned his army around. The tribe that rebelled was eradicated from the face of the earth (every person).

In the 7th century AD, Arab army’s brought Islam to the region. Then in 1219 AD, the Mongols led by Genghis Khan rolled over the region destroying almost everything in their path.

Three centuries later in 1504, Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan, established the Moghul Empire with Kabul as its capital. Two hundred years later, that empire shattered into several tribal groups.

In 1746, the modern state of Afghanistan was established with Kandahar as the capital.

Then in 1826, at the urging of the British, a Sikh army invades from the south, and in 1838, The British start the First Anglo-Afghan War to place their man on the throne in Kabul. The British stay until 1842 before they withdraw through the Khyber Pass. In the last year of the war, a combined British and Raj force of more than 16,000 troops and camp followers is massacred after leaving Kabul in route to British controlled India.

In 1878, the British start the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Two years later, the British withdraw after achieving their goals.

In 1919, Afghanistan gains its independence from Britain’s influence after a third war.

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires, special guest Steven Tanner—History Counts and In Context are produced by MDR Productions, Inc.

Starting in 1933, after centuries of war, there is stability, but this ends in 1973 followed an invasion in 1979 from the Soviet Communist Empire—this is where the balance of power between the Afghan tribes becomes unstable.

The Mujahedin—with financial backing and modern weapons—drives the Soviet out in 1989.

A few years later in 1996, the Taliban seize control and Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda arrive soon afterward.

On September 11, 2001, four US airliners are hijacked and two are flown into the World Trade Center. The Taliban is Al Qaeda’s friend and that makes them our enemy.  After the Taliban refuse to hand over Bin Laden, the US and Britain launched air strikes in Afghanistan. Source: TimeLine: Afghanistan’s turbulent history—

Afghanistan is a region of tribes. The Afghan National Anthem mentions a total of 14 ethnic tribal groups. The largest is the Pashtun. In 2004, it was estimated that the Pashtuns make up 41 – 60% of Afghanistan’s population. In Pakistan, the Pashtuns are the second largest ethnic/tribal group. Since 1840, the tribes have not united behind a single leader.

In 1939—before Britain’s first war in Afghanistan—a British spymaster, Sir Claude Wade, warned that “such interference will always lead to acrimonious disputes, if not to a violent reaction.”

Since Soviet meddling in Afghanistan’s politics and its invasion, “Afghanistan has also lost all its vital institutions, the structure of the state and the historical consensus that the country once had. … Afghanistan is ethnically a very diverse country that has been dominated by the Pashtun majority at the top level as all the kings came from this group. However, ethnicity was never a very strong factor in Afghan politics before the Saur revolution of 1978.  The war in Afghanistan has vastly changed the traditional balance of power among the ethnic groups. Non-Pashtun minorities are more powerful today than they were 20 years back. Three factors have contributed to their empowerment …” Source: Conflict in Afghanistan: Ethnicity, Religion and Neighbours by Rasul Bakhsh Rais

What have you discovered about waging a long war in Afghanistan and meddling in her politics from this brief history?

This series will continued on August 14, 2013 with A brief history or Iraq


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

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