Afghanistan has played a key role in the spread of civilization from its earliest history. British historian Arnold Toynbee described it as one of the two greatest crossroads of cultural dispersion from prehistoric times until the Renaissance. However, what is now called Afghanistan has been subjected to recurrent invasions and conquests since antiquity.

Early conquerors included the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Scythians, White Huns and Turks. In 642 AD, Arab invaders brought the new religion of Islam. However, Arab rule quickly gave way to the Persians, whose rule continued until 998. They were followed by the Turks, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, and a divisive time of various dynasties, princes and chieftains. In the 16th century, Tamerlane, one of Genghis Khan’s descendants, made Afghanistan part of his Asian empire with Kabul as its capital.

In 1747, the Pashtun ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani helped unite Afghan tribes into an independent kingdom. However, early in the 19th century, the British Empire, which then controlled India, began vying for control of Afghanistan. Two Anglo-Afghan wars followed, during which Afghans fiercely resisted foreign rule. While Afghanistan managed to retain formal control of its government, its foreign policy was effectively controlled by the British. After World War I, King Amanullah launched a third war to end British influence. On August 19, 1919, Britain relinquished its power and Afghanistan became officially independent.

After independence, Amanullah introduced a number of liberal reforms to modernize Afghanistan. The reforms stimulated ethnic and religious conflict, and in 1929, a military coup forced Amanullah to abdicate. Although the monarchy was reestablished, various militant opposition parties strengthened during the next decades. In 1973, another military coup toppled the monarchy, and Afghanistan was declared a republic under President Daud. This government was soon overthrown by a communist coup, led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which had ties to the Soviet Union. Opposition to communist rule was immediate, and the government response was violent. Instability grew, and in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to take control.

The Soviet regime experienced enormous, continual resistance from Afghan people and Mujahidin (organized freedom fighters), who received military assistance from the United States and other countries. Under the Geneva Accord brokered by foreign countries, the Soviets withdrew in 1989. However, the communist regime remained in power until 1992.

In 1992, Mujahidin forces overpowered the government in Kabul and declared Afghanistan to be an Islamic state. In 1996, another militant Islamic group called the Taliban overthrew the Mujahidin in Kabul and solidified control over half the country. The Taliban imposed a strict system of fundamentalist Islamic law. A Mujahidin coalition called the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIFSA) continued resistance.

In October 2001, the United States attacked Taliban forces for refusing to extradite Osama Bin Laden, leader of the Al-Queda paramilitary group and instigator of the September 11, 2021 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Numerous countries, including Canada and Britain, have supported the U.S. invasion, and the Taliban has recently lost power. Currently, decades of war have caused millions of Afghans to flee their homes. Although a transitional government under President Karajin is in place, Afghanistan remains severely wartorn.

  Did you know?
The former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who has been living in exile, returned to Afghanistan in March 2001.