History of Afghanistan
History of Afghanistan ©HistoryMaps

3300 BCE - 2024

History of Afghanistan

Afghanistan's history is marked by its strategic location along the Silk Road, making it a crossroads of various civilizations. Early human habitation dates back to the Middle Paleolithic era. It has been influenced by Persian, Indian, and Central Asian cultures, and has been a center for Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam through different eras.

The Durrani Empire is considered to be the foundational polity of the modern nation-state of Afghanistan, with Ahmad Shah Durrani being credited as its Father of the Nation. However, Dost Mohammad Khan is sometimes considered to be the founder of the first modern Afghan state. Following the Durrani Empire's decline and the death of Ahmad Shah Durrani and Timur Shah, it was divided into multiple smaller independent kingdoms, including but not limited to Herat, Kandahar and Kabul. Afghanistan would be reunited in the 19th century after seven decades of civil war from 1793 to 1863, with wars of unification led by Dost Mohammad Khan from 1823 to 1863, where he conquered the independent principalities of Afghanistan under the Emirate of Kabul. Dost Mohammad died in 1863, days after his last campaign to unite Afghanistan, and Afghanistan was consequently thrown back into civil war with fighting amongst his successors. During this time, Afghanistan became a buffer state in the Great Game between the British Raj in South Asia and the Russian Empire. The British Raj attempted to subjugate Afghanistan but was repelled in the First Anglo-Afghan War. However, the Second Anglo-Afghan War saw a British victory and the successful establishment of British political influence over Afghanistan. Following the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919, Afghanistan became free of foreign political hegemony, and emerged as the independent Kingdom of Afghanistan in June 1926 under Amanullah Khan. This monarchy lasted almost half a century, until Zahir Shah was overthrown in 1973, following which the Republic of Afghanistan was established.

Since the late 1970s, Afghanistan's history has been dominated by extensive warfare, including coups, invasions, insurgencies, and civil wars. The conflict began in 1978 when a communist revolution established a socialist state, and subsequent infighting prompted the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan in 1979. Mujahideen fought against the Soviets in the Soviet–Afghan War and continued fighting amongst themselves following the Soviets' withdrawal in 1989. The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban controlled most of the country by 1996, but their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan received little international recognition before its overthrow in the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban returned to power in 2021 after capturing Kabul and overthrowing the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, thus bringing an end to the 2001–2021 war. Although initially claiming it would form an inclusive government for the country, in September 2021 the Taliban re-established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with an interim government made up entirely of Taliban members. The Taliban government remains internationally unrecognized.

Helmand Culture
Man making Pottery vessel from Shahr-e Sukhteh. ©HistoryMaps
3300 BCE Jan 1 - 2350 BCE

Helmand Culture

Helmand, Afghanistan

The Helmand culture, flourishing between 3300 and 2350 BCE,[1] was a Bronze Age civilization located in the Helmand River valley in southern Afghanistan and eastern Iran. It was characterized by complex urban settlements, notably Shahr-i Sokhta in Iran and Mundigak in Afghanistan, which are among the earliest discovered cities in the region. This culture demonstrated advanced social structures, with evidence of temples and palaces. Pottery from this era was decorated with colorful geometric patterns, animals, and plants, indicating a rich cultural expression. Bronze technology was present, and texts in the Elamite language found at Shahr-i Sokhta suggest connections with western Iran and,[2] to a lesser extent, with the Indus Valley civilization, although there was minimal chronological overlap with the latter.

V.M. Masson categorized early civilizations based on their agricultural practices, distinguishing among civilizations of tropical agriculture, of irrigation agriculture, and of non-irrigated Mediterranean agriculture. Within the civilizations of irrigation agriculture, he further identified those based on large rivers and those reliant on limited water sources, with the Helmand culture fitting into the latter category. This civilization's reliance on limited water sources for agriculture underscores its ingenuity and adaptation to the environment.

Oxus Civilization
Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. ©HistoryMaps
2400 BCE Jan 1 - 1950 BCE

Oxus Civilization

Amu Darya

The Oxus Civilization, also known as the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), was a Middle Bronze Age civilization in southern Central Asia, mainly around the Amu Darya (Oxus River) in Bactria and the Murghab river delta in Margiana (modern Turkmenistan). Noted for its urban sites predominantly located in Margiana and a significant site in southern Bactria (now northern Afghanistan), the civilization is characterized by its monumental structures, fortified walls, and gates, uncovered during excavations led by Soviet archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi from 1969 to 1979. Sarianidi named the civilization BMAC in 1976.

The development of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) spans several periods, beginning with early settlement in the northern foothills of the Kopet Dag during the Neolithic period at Jeitun (c. 7200-4600 BCE),[3] where mud brick houses and agriculture were first established. This era, known for its farming communities with origins in southwest Asia, transitions into the Chalcolithic period with evidence of advanced crop cultivation suited for arid conditions found at Chagylly Depe.

The subsequent Regionalization Era (4600-2800 BCE) saw the emergence of pre-Chalcolithic and Chalcolithic developments in the Kopet Dag region and the establishment of significant settlements like Kara-Depe, Namazga-Depe, and Altyn-Depe, alongside advancements in metallurgy and agriculture introduced by migrants from central Iran. This period is marked by population growth and the diversification of settlements across the region.

By the Late Regionalization Era,[3] the culture at Altyn Depe evolved into a proto-urban society, highlighting the Namazga III phase's (c. 3200-2800 BCE) late Chalcolithic characteristics. The Integration Era, or the urban phase of the BMAC, reached its zenith in the Middle Bronze Age with significant urban centers developing in the Kopet Dag piedmont, Margiana, and southern Bactria, alongside notable cemetery sites in southwestern Tajikistan.

Key urban sites like Namazga Depe and Altyn Depe grew substantially, indicating complex societal structures. Similarly, Margiana's settlement patterns, particularly at Gonur Depe and the Kelleli phase sites, reflect sophisticated urban planning and architectural development, with Gonur considered a major center in the region. The material culture of the BMAC, characterized by its agricultural practices, monumental architecture, and metalworking skills, suggests a highly developed civilization. The presence of wheeled transport models from c. 3000 BCE at Altyn-Depe represents one of the earliest evidences of such technology in Central Asia.

Interactions with neighboring cultures were significant, with archaeological evidence indicating trade and cultural exchanges with the Indus Valley civilization, the Iranian Plateau, and beyond. These interactions highlight the BMAC's role in the broader prehistoric context of Eurasia. The complex has also been the subject of various theories regarding the Indo-Iranians, with some scholars suggesting that the BMAC could represent the material culture of these groups. This hypothesis is supported by the integration of Indo-Iranian speakers from the Andronovo culture into the BMAC, potentially leading to the development of Proto-Indo-Aryan language and culture within this hybrid society before moving south into the Indian subcontinent.

1500 BCE - 250 BCE
Ancient Period of Afghanistan
Gandhara Kingdom
Stupa in the Gandhara Kingdom. ©HistoryMaps
1500 BCE Jan 1 00:01 - 535 BCE

Gandhara Kingdom

Taxila, Pakistan

Gandhara, centered around the Peshawar Valley and Swat river valley, extended its cultural influence across the Indus river to Taxila in the Potohar Plateau, westwards into the Kabul and Bamiyan valleys in Afghanistan, and northwards to the Karakoram range. In the 6th century BCE, it emerged as a significant imperial power in northwest South Asia, incorporating the valley of Kashmir and exerting suzerainty over Punjab region states like the Kekayas, Madrakas, Uśīnaras, and Shivis. King Pukkusāti of Gandhāra, reigning around 550 BCE, embarked on expansionist ventures, notably clashing with King Pradyota of Avanti, and emerged successful.

Following these conquests, Cyrus the Great of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, after his victories over Media, Lydia, and Babylonia, invaded Gandhara and annexed it into his empire, specifically targeting the trans-Indus borderlands around Peshawar. Despite this, scholars like Kaikhosru Danjibuoy Sethna suggest that Pukkusāti maintained control over the remainder of Gandhara and the western Punjab, indicating a nuanced control of the region during the Achaemenid conquest.

Medes Era in Afghanistan
Persian soldier based on the Apadana Palace in Persepolis, Iran. ©HistoryMaps
680 BCE Jan 1 - 550 BCE

Medes Era in Afghanistan

Fars Province, Iran

The Medes, an Iranian people, arrived around the 700s BCE and established dominance over most of ancient Afghanistan, marking an early presence of Iranian tribes in the region.[4] As one of the first tribes to establish an empire on the Iranian plateau, the Medes had a significant influence and initially held sway over the Persians in the province of Fars to the south. Their control over parts of distant Afghanistan continued until the rise of Cyrus the Great, who founded the Achaemenid Persian Empire, signaling a shift in power dynamics in the area.

Achaemenid Empire in Afghanistan
Achaemenid Persians and Median ©Johnny Shumate
550 BCE Jan 1 - 331 BCE

Achaemenid Empire in Afghanistan

Bactra, Afghanistan

Following its conquest by Darius I of Persia, Afghanistan was absorbed into the Achaemenid Empire and segmented into satrapies governed by satraps. Key satrapies included Aria, roughly aligning with present-day Herat Province, bordered by mountain ranges and deserts separating it from neighboring regions, extensively documented by Ptolemy and Strabo. Arachosia, corresponding to areas around modern Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, and Quetta, neighbored Drangiana, Paropamisadae, and Gedrosia. Its residents, the Iranian Arachosians or Arachoti, are speculated to have links to the ethnic Pashtun tribes, historically referred to as Paktyans.

Bactriana, positioned north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs, and south of the Tian Shan with the Amu Darya river coursing west through Balkh, was a significant Achaemenid territory. Sattagydia, described by Herodotus as part of the empire's Seventh tax district alongside Gandārae, Dadicae, and Aparytae, likely extended east of the Sulaiman Mountains to the Indus River, near today's Bannu. Gandhara, matching the areas of contemporary Kabul, Jalalabad, and Peshawar, further delineated the empire's extensive reach.

Macedonian Invasion & Seleucid Empire in Bactria
Alexander the Great ©Peter Connolly
330 BCE Jan 1 - 250 BCE

Macedonian Invasion & Seleucid Empire in Bactria

Bactra, Afghanistan

The Achaemenid Empire fell to Alexander the Great, leading to the retreat and eventual defeat of its last ruler, Darius III. Seeking refuge in Balkh, Darius III was assassinated by Bessus, a Bactrian noble who then declared himself Artaxerxes V, ruler of Persia. However, Bessus could not withstand Alexander's forces, fleeing back to Balkh to gather support. His efforts failed when local tribes handed him over to Alexander, who had him tortured and executed for regicide.

After subduing Persia, Alexander the Great advanced eastward where he faced resistance from the Kamboja tribes, notably the Aspasioi and Assakenoi, during his invasion of what is now eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan.[5] The Kambojas inhabited the Hindukush region, an area that has seen various rulers including the Vedic Mahajanapada, Pali Kapiśi, Indo-Greeks, Kushans, Gandharans, to Paristan, and is presently divided between Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Over time, the Kambojas assimilated into new identities, though some tribes today still preserve their ancestral names. The Yusufzai Pashtuns, Kom/Kamoz of Nuristan, Ashkun of Nuristan, Yashkun Shina Dards, and the Kamboj of Punjab are examples of groups retaining their Kamboja heritage. Additionally, the country of Cambodia's name is derived from the Kamboja.[6]

Alexander died in 323 BCE at 32, leaving an empire that, due to lack of political integration, fragmented as his generals divided it among themselves. Seleucus, one of Alexander the Great's cavalry commanders, assumed control over the eastern territories after Alexander's death, founding the Seleucid dynasty. Despite the Macedonian soldiers' desire to return to Greece, Seleucus focused on securing his eastern frontier. In the 3rd century BCE, he relocated Ionian Greeks to Balkh among other areas, aiming to strengthen his position and influence in the region.

The Maurya Empire, led by Chandragupta Maurya further entrenched Hinduism and introduced Buddhism to the region, and were planning to capture more territory of Central Asia until they faced local Greco-Bactrian forces. Seleucus is said to have reached a peace treaty with Chandragupta by giving control of the territory south of the Hindu Kush to the Mauryas upon intermarriage and 500 elephants. Afghanistan's significant ancient tangible and intangible Buddhist heritage is recorded through wide-ranging archeological finds, including religious and artistic remnants. Buddhist doctrines are reported to have reached as far as Balkh even during the life of the Buddha (563 - 483 BCE), as recorded by Husang Tsang.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
Greco-Bactrian city in Central Asia. ©HistoryMaps
256 BCE Jan 1 - 120 BCE

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

Bactra, Afghanistan

The region of Bactria saw the introduction of Greek settlers as early as the reign of Darius I, who deported the population of Barca from Cyrenaica to Bactria for their refusal to hand over assassins.[7] Greek influence in the area expanded under Xerxes I, marked by the forced relocation of descendants of Greek priests from near Didyma in western Asia Minor to Bactria, along with other Greek exiles and prisoners of war. By 328 BCE, when Alexander the Great conquered Bactria, Greek communities and the Greek language were already prevalent in the region.[8]

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, established in 256 BCE by Diodotus I Soter, was a Hellenistic Greek state in Central Asia and part of the Hellenistic world's eastern frontier. Spanning modern-day Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and parts of Kazakhstan, Iran, and Pakistan, this kingdom was one of the farthest eastern reaches of Hellenistic culture. It extended its influence further east, possibly up to the borders of the Qin State around 230 BCE. The kingdom's significant cities, Ai-Khanum and Bactra, were known for their wealth, with Bactria itself celebrated as "the land of a thousand golden cities."

Euthydemus, originally from Magnesia, overthrew Diodotus II around 230–220 BCE, establishing his own dynasty in Bactria and extending his control to Sogdiana.[9] His reign faced a challenge from Seleucid ruler Antiochus III around 210 BCE, leading to a three-year siege in Bactra (modern Balkh), which ended with Antiochus recognizing Euthydemus's rule and offering a matrimonial alliance.[10]

Euthydemus's son, Demetrius, initiated an invasion of the Indian subcontinent around 180 BCE, following the fall of the Mauryan Empire. Historians debate his motivations, ranging from support for the Mauryans to protecting Buddhism from the Shungas' alleged persecutions. Demetrius's campaign, which may have reached Pataliputra (modern Patna), laid the groundwork for the Indo-Greek Kingdom, lasting until approximately 10 CE. This era saw the flourishing of Buddhism and Greco-Buddhism cultural syncretism, notably under King Menander I.

Around 170 BCE, Eucratides, possibly a general or a Seleucid ally, overthrew the Euthydemid dynasty in Bactria. An Indian king, likely Demetrius II, attempted to reclaim Bactria but was defeated. Eucratides then expanded his rule into northwestern India, until being repelled by Menander I. Eucratides's defeat by Parthian king Mithridates I, potentially allied with Euthydemid supporters, weakened his position. By 138 BCE, Mithridates I had extended his control to the Indus region, but his death in 136 BCE left the territory vulnerable, eventually leading to Heliocles I's rule over the remaining lands. This period marked Bactria's decline, exposing it to nomadic invasions.

250 BCE - 563
Classical Period of Afghanistan
Indo-Greek Kingdom
A Scuplture of buddha in the Indo-Greek style inside a Buddhist temple. ©HistoryMaps
200 BCE Jan 1 - 10

Indo-Greek Kingdom

Bagram, Afghanistan

The Indo-Greek Kingdom, existing from approximately 200 BCE to 10 CE, spanned parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwestern India. It was formed by the invasion of the Indian subcontinent by the Graeco-Bactrian king Demetrius, later followed by Eucratides. This Hellenistic-era kingdom, also known as the Yavana Kingdom, featured a blend of Greek and Indian cultures, as evidenced by their coins, language, and archaeological remains.

The kingdom comprised various dynastic polities with capitals in regions such as Taxila (in modern Punjab), Pushkalavati, and Sagala, indicating a widespread Greek presence in the area. The Indo-Greeks were known for merging Greek and Indian elements, significantly impacting art through Greco-Buddhist influences and possibly forming a hybrid ethnicity among the ruling classes.

Menander I, the most notable Indo-Greek king, based his capital in Sagala (present-day Sialkot). Following his death, the Indo-Greek territories fragmented, and their influence waned, giving rise to local kingdoms and republics. The Indo-Greeks faced invasions by the Indo-Scythians and were eventually absorbed or displaced by the Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians, and Kushans, with Greek populations possibly remaining in the region until as late as 415 CE under the Western Satraps.

Indo-Scythians in Afghanistan
Saka warrior, enemy of the Yuezhi. ©HistoryMaps
150 BCE Jan 1 - 400

Indo-Scythians in Afghanistan

Bactra, Afghanistan

The Indo-Scythians, or Indo-Sakas, were Iranic Scythian nomads migrating from Central Asia to the northwestern Indian subcontinent (present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India) from the mid-2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE. Maues (Moga), the first Saka king in India during the 1st century BCE, established his rule in Gandhara, the Indus Valley, and beyond, conquering the Indo-Greeks among others. The Indo-Scythians later came under the dominion of the Kushan Empire, ruled by leaders such as Kujula Kadphises or Kanishka, yet continued to govern certain areas as satrapies, known as the Northern and Western Satraps.

Their rule began to wane in the 2nd century CE following defeats by Satavahana emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni. The Indo-Scythian presence in the northwest ended with the defeat of the last Western Satrap, Rudrasimha III, by Gupta emperor Chandragupta II in 395 CE. The Indo-Scythian invasion marked a significant historical period, affecting regions including Bactria, Kabul, the Indian subcontinent, and extending influences to Rome and Parthia. Early rulers of this kingdom included Maues (c. 85–60 BCE) and Vonones (c. 75–65 BCE), as documented by ancient historians like Arrian and Claudius Ptolemy, who noted the Sakas' nomadic lifestyle.

Yuezhi Nomadic Invasion of Bactria
Yuezhi Nomadic Invasion of Bactria. ©HistoryMaps
132 BCE Jan 1

Yuezhi Nomadic Invasion of Bactria

Bactra, Afghanistan

The Yuezhi, originally from the Hexi Corridor near the Han Empire, were displaced by the Xiongnu around 176 BCE and migrated westward following subsequent displacements by the Wusun. By 132 BCE, they had moved south of the Oxus River, displacing the Sakastan nomads.[11] Han diplomat Zhang Qian's visit in 126 BCE revealed the Yuezhi's settlement north of the Oxus and control over Bactria, indicating their significant military might, contrasting with the Greco-Bactrian forces of 10,000 horsemen under Euthydemus I in 208 BCE.[12] Zhang Qian described a demoralized Bactria with a vanished political system but intact urban infrastructure.

The Yuezhi expanded into Bactria around 120 BCE, driven by Wusun invasions and displacing Scythian tribes towards India. This led to the eventual establishment of the Indo-Scythians. Heliocles, moving to the Kabul valley, became the last Greco-Bactrian king, with descendants continuing the Indo-Greek kingdom until around 70 BCE, when Yuezhi invasions ended Hermaeus's rule in the Paropamisadae. The Yuezhi's stay in Bactria lasted over a century, during which they adopted aspects of Hellenistic culture, such as the Greek alphabet for their later Iranian court language, and minted coins in the Greco-Bactrian style. By 12 BCE, they advanced into northern India, founding the Kushan Empire.

Indo-Parthian Suren Kingdom
Artist Representation of the Ancient Buddhist monastery Takht-i-Bahi constructed by the Indo-Parthians in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. ©HistoryMaps
19 Jan 1 - 226

Indo-Parthian Suren Kingdom

Kabul, Afghanistan

The Indo-Parthian Kingdom, founded by Gondophares around 19 CE, thrived until approximately 226 CE, covering eastern Iran, parts of Afghanistan, and the northwestern Indian subcontinent. This kingdom, potentially linked to the House of Suren, is also referred to by some as the "Suren Kingdom".[13] Gondophares declared independence from the Parthian Empire, extending his realm by conquering territories from the Indo-Scythians and Indo-Greeks, although its extent was later diminished by Kushan invasions. The Indo-Parthians managed to maintain control over regions like Sakastan until around 224/5 CE when conquered by the Sasanian Empire.[14]

Gondophares I, likely from Seistan and related to or a vassal of the Apracarajas, expanded his domain into former Indo-Scythian territories around 20–10 BCE, encompassing Arachosia, Seistan, Sindh, Punjab, and the Kabul valley. His empire was a loose federation of smaller rulers, including the Apracarajas and Indo-Scythian satraps, who acknowledged his supremacy.

Following Gondophares I's death, the empire fragmented. Notable successors included Gondophares II (Sarpedones), and Abdagases, Gondophares' nephew, who ruled Punjab and possibly Seistan. The kingdom saw a series of minor kings and internal divisions, with territories gradually absorbed by the Kushans from the mid-1st century CE. The Indo-Parthians retained some regions until the fall of the Parthian Empire to the Sasanian Empire around 230 CE. The Sasanian conquest of Turan and Sakastan around 230 CE marked the end of the Indo-Parthian rule, as recorded by Al-Tabari.

Kushan Empire
This era, marked by the "Pax Kushana," facilitated trade and cultural exchanges, including maintaining a road from Gandhara to China, boosting the spread of Mahayana Buddhism. ©HistoryMaps
30 Jan 1 - 375

Kushan Empire

Peshawar, Pakistan

The Kushan Empire, established by the Yuezhi in the Bactrian region around the early 1st century CE, expanded from Central Asia into northwest India under Emperor Kujula Kadphises. This empire, at its peak, covered areas that are now part of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. The Kushans, likely a branch of the Yuezhi confederation with possible Tocharian origins,[15] migrated from northwestern China to Bactria, integrating Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian elements into their culture.

Kujula Kadphises, the dynasty's founder, embraced Greco-Bactrian cultural traditions and was a Shaivite Hindu. His successors, Vima Kadphises and Vasudeva II, also supported Hinduism, while Buddhism flourished under their rule, notably with Emperor Kanishka championing its spread to Central Asia and China. This era, marked by the "Pax Kushana," facilitated trade and cultural exchanges, including maintaining a road from Gandhara to China, boosting the spread of Mahayana Buddhism.[16]

The Kushans maintained diplomatic relations with the Roman Empire, Sasanian Persia, the Aksumite Empire, and Han China, positioning the Kushan Empire as a crucial trade and cultural bridge. Despite its significance, much of the empire's history is known from foreign texts, especially Chinese accounts, as they transitioned from Greek to Bactrian language for administrative purposes. Fragmentation in the 3rd century led to semi-independent kingdoms vulnerable to Sasanian westward invasions, forming the Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom in regions like Sogdiana, Bactria, and Gandhara. The 4th century saw further pressure from the Gupta Empire, and eventually, the Kushan and Kushano-Sasanian realms succumbed to the Kidarites and Hephthalites invasions.

Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom
Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom ©HistoryMaps
230 Jan 1 - 362

Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom

Bactra, Afghanistan

The Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom, also known as the Indo-Sasanians, was established in the 3rd and 4th centuries by the Sasanian Empire in the territories of Sogdia, Bactria, and Gandhara, previously part of the declining Kushan Empire. Following their conquests around 225 CE, the Sasanian-appointed governors adopted the title of Kushanshah, or "King of the Kushans," marking their rule by minting distinct coins. This period is often viewed as a "sub-kingdom" within the broader Sasanian Empire, maintaining a degree of autonomy until around 360–370 CE.

The Kushano-Sasanians eventually faced defeat by the Kidarites, leading to the loss of significant territories. The remnants of their domain were absorbed back into the Sasanian Empire. Subsequently, the Kidarites were overthrown by the Hephthalites, also known as the Alchon Huns, who expanded their control to Bactria, Gandhara, and even central India. This succession of rulers continued with the Turk Shahi and then the Hindu Shahi dynasties, until the Muslim conquest reached the northwestern regions of India.

Sasanian Era in Afghanistan
Sasanian Emperor ©HistoryMaps
230 Jan 1 - 650

Sasanian Era in Afghanistan

Bactra, Afghanistan

In the 3rd century CE, the fragmentation of the Kushan Empire led to the formation of semi-independent states, vulnerable to the expanding Sasanian Empire (224–561 CE), which by 300 CE had annexed Afghanistan, establishing the Kushanshahs as vassal rulers. Sasanian control, however, was challenged by Central Asian tribes, causing regional instability and warfare.

The disintegration of Kushan and Sasanian defenses paved the way for invasions by the Xionites/Hunas from the 4th century onwards. Notably, the Hephthalites emerged from Central Asia in the 5th century, conquering Bactria and posing a significant threat to Iran, eventually overthrowing the last Kushan entities. Hephthalite dominance lasted about a century, characterized by continuous conflict with the Sasanians, who maintained nominal influence over the region.

By the mid-6th century, the Hephthalites faced defeat in territories north of the Amu Darya by the Göktürks and were overcome by the Sasanians south of the river. The Göktürks, led by ruler Sijin, secured victories against the Hephthalites at the battles of Chach (Tashkent) and Bukhara, marking a significant shift in the region's power dynamics.

Kidarite Warrior in Bactria. ©HistoryMaps
359 Jan 1


Bactra, Afghanistan

The Kidarites were a dynasty that ruled Bactria and adjoining parts of Central Asia and South Asia in the 4th and 5th centuries. The Kidarites belonged to a complex of peoples known collectively in India as the Huna, and in Europe as the Chionites and may even be considered as identical to the Chionites. The Huna/Xionite tribes are often linked, albeit controversially, to the Huns who invaded Eastern Europe during a similar period. The Kidarites were named after Kidara one of their main rulers. The Kidarites appear to have been a part of a Huna horde known in Latin sources as the "Kermichiones" (from the Iranian Karmir Xyon) or "Red Huna". The Kidarites established the first of four major Xionite/Huna states in Central Asia, followed by the Alchon, the Hephthalites and the Nezak.

In 360–370 CE, a Kidarite kingdom was established in Central Asian regions previously ruled by the Sasanian Empire, replacing the Kushano-Sasanians in Bactria. Thereafter, the Sasanian Empire roughly stopped at Merv. Next, circa 390-410 CE, the Kidarites invaded northwestern India, where they replaced the remnants of the Kushan Empire in the area of Punjab. The Kidarites based their capital in Samarkand, where they were at the center of Central Asian trade networks, in close relation with the Sogdians. The Kidarites had a powerful administration and raised taxes, rather efficiently managing their territories, in contrast to the image of barbarians bent on destruction given by Persian accounts.

Hephthalite Empire
Hephthalites in Afghanistan ©HistoryMaps
450 Jan 1 - 560

Hephthalite Empire

Bactra, Afghanistan

The Hephthalites, often referred to as the White Huns, were a Central Asian people who flourished from the 5th-8th centuries CE, forming a significant part of the Iranian Huns. Their empire, known as the Imperial Hephthalites, was notably powerful between 450 and 560 CE, extending from Bactria across the Tarim Basin to Sogdia and south through Afghanistan. Despite their expansion, they did not cross the Hindu Kush, distinguishing them from the Alchon Huns. This period was marked by victories such as over the Kidarites and expansions into various regions until their defeat by the alliance of the First Turkic Khaganate and the Sasanian Empire around 560 CE.

Post-defeat, the Hephthalites managed to establish principalities in Tokharistan under the suzerainty of the Western Turks and the Sasanians, until the rise of the Tokhara Yabghus in 625 CE. Their capital was likely Kunduz, located in present-day southern Uzbekistan and northern Afghanistan. Despite their defeat in 560 CE, the Hephthalites continued to play a role in the region, maintaining a presence in areas like the Zarafshan valley and Kabul, among others.

The collapse of the Hephthalite Empire in the mid-6th century led to their fragmentation into principalities. This era saw significant battles, including the notable defeat at the Battle of Gol-Zarriun against a Turk-Sasanian alliance. Despite initial setbacks, including leadership changes and challenges from the Sasanians and Turks, the Hephthalites' presence persisted in various forms across the region.

Their history saw further complexities with the separation of the Western Turkic Khaganate and subsequent conflicts with the Sasanians. By the late 6th century, Hephthalite territories began falling to the Turks, culminating in the establishment of the Tokhara Yabghus dynasty by 625 CE, marking a new phase in the region's political landscape. This transition ushered in the era of the Turk Shahis and the Zunbils, extending the legacy of Turkic rule in Central Asia and influencing the region's history well into the 9th century CE.

565 - 1504
Middle Ages in Afghanistan
Muslim Conquests of Afghanistan
Muslim Conquests of Afghanistan ©HistoryMaps
642 Jan 1

Muslim Conquests of Afghanistan

Herat, Afghanistan

The Arab Muslims' expansion into Afghanistan began after the battle of Nahāvand in 642 CE, marking the onset of the Muslim conquest of the region. This period extended into the 10th to 12th centuries under the Ghaznavid and Ghurid dynasties, which were instrumental in the full Islamization of Afghanistan. The initial conquests in the 7th century targeted Zoroastrian areas in Khorasan and Sistan, with significant cities like Balkh succumbing by 705 CE.

Prior to these conquests, Afghanistan's eastern regions were deeply influenced by Indian religions, predominantly Buddhism and Hinduism, which faced resistance against the Muslim advances. Although the Umayyad Caliphate managed to establish nominal control over the region, real change occurred with the Ghaznavids, who effectively reduced the power of Hindu Shahis in Kabul.

The spread of Islam saw variations across different regions, with significant conversions like those in Bamiyan occurring in the late 8th century. Yet, it wasn't until the Ghaznavid invasions that areas such as Ghur embraced Islam, signaling the end of Arab attempts to control the region directly.

The arrival of the Pashtuns, migrating from the Sulaiman Mountains during the 16th and 17th centuries, marked a pivotal shift in the demographic and religious landscape, as they overtook indigenous populations including Tajiks, Hazaras, and Nuristanis. Nuristan, once known as Kafiristan due to its non-Muslim practices, maintained its polytheistic Hindu-based religion until its forcible conversion under Amir Abdul Rahman Khan in 1895-1896 CE.[17] This period of conquests and cultural transformations significantly shaped Afghanistan's religious and ethnic composition, leading to its current Islamic majority.

Turk Shahis
The Bala Hissar fortress, west Kabul, originally built around the 5th century CE ©HistoryMaps
665 Jan 1 - 822

Turk Shahis

Kabul, Afghanistan

The Turk Shahis, a dynasty that may have been of Western Turk, mixed Turko-Hephthalite, Hephthalite origin, or possibly Khalaj ethnicity, ruled from Kabul and Kapisa to Gandhara between the 7th and 9th centuries CE. Under the leadership of Western Turk ruler Tong Yabghu Qaghan, the Turks crossed the Hindu-Kush and occupied Gandhara up to the Indus River around 625 CE. The Turk Shahi territory spanned from Kapisi to Gandhara, and at one point, a Turkic branch in Zabulistan became independent. Gandhara, which bordered the kingdoms of Kashmir and Kannauj to the east, had Udabhandapura as its capital, possibly serving as a winter capital alongside Kabul's role as a summer capital. The Korean pilgrim Hui Chao, who visited between 723 and 729 CE, recorded that these areas were under the rule of Turk kings. Emerging in a period following the Sasanian Empire's fall to the Rashidun Caliphate, the Turk Shahis were possibly an offshoot of the Western Turks who expanded from Transoxonia into Bactria and the Hindu-Kush area from the 560s, eventually replacing the Nezak Huns, the region's last Bactrian rulers of Xwn or Huna descent. The dynasty's resistance to the Abbasid Caliphate's eastward expansion lasted over 250 years until their defeat by the Persian Saffarids in the 9th century CE. Kabulistan, incorporating Zabulistan and Gandhara at various times, served as the Turk Shahi heartland.


In 653 CE, the Tang dynasty recorded Ghar-ilchi, the last Nezak ruler, as the king of Jibin. By 661 CE, he brokered a peace treaty with the Arabs that year. However, in 664-665 CE, the region was targeted by Abd al-Rahman ibn Samura, who aimed to reclaim territories lost during the Caliphate Wars. A series of events significantly weakened the Nezaks, with their ruler converting to Islam and being spared. By around 666/667 CE, the Nezak leadership was supplanted by the Turk Shahis, initially in Zabulistan and later in Kabulistan and Gandhara. The ethnic identity of the Turk Shahis is debated, and the term may be misleading.

Since around 658 CE, the Turk Shahis, alongside other Western Turks, were nominally under the Chinese Tang dynasty's protectorate. Chinese records, especially the Cefu Yuangui, describe the Kabul Turks as vassals to the Tokharistan Yabghus, who pledged loyalty to the Tang dynasty. In 718 CE, Puluo, the younger brother of Tokhara Yabghu Pantu Nili, reported to the Tang court in Xi'an. He detailed the military might in Tokharistan, noting that "two hundred and twelve kingdoms, governors, and prefects" acknowledged the Yabghus' authority. This included the Zabul king commanding two hundred thousand soldiers and horses, similarly for the Kabul king, tracing back to the era of their grandfather.

Resistance against Arab Expansion

Under Barha Tegin's leadership, the Turk Shahis launched a successful counter-offensive around 665 CE, reclaiming territories up to Arachosia and Kandahar from the Arabs after Abd al-Rahman ibn Samura's replacement as Governor of Sistan. Subsequently, the capital was moved from Kapisa to Kabul. The Arabs' renewed offensives in 671 CE and 673 CE under new governors were met with resistance, leading to a peace treaty that recognized Shahi control over Kabul and Zabul. Arab attempts to capture Kabul and Zabulistan in 683 CE were thwarted, leading to significant Arab losses.

Despite briefly losing control to the Arabs between 684–685 CE, the Shahis demonstrated resilience. An Arab attempt in 700 CE ended in a peace treaty and an internal rebellion within the Umayyad ranks. By 710 CE, Tegin Shah, Barha's son, reasserted control over Zabulistan, as indicated by Chinese chronicles, signaling a period of fluctuating political dependence and resistance against Arab control. From 711 CE, the Shahis faced a new Muslim threat from the southeast with Muhammad ibn Qasim's campaigns, establishing an Umayyad and later Abbasid-controlled province of Sind up to Multan, presenting a sustained challenge until 854 CE.

Decline and Fall

In 739 CE, Tegin Shah abdicated in favor of his son Fromo Kesaro, who continued the struggle against Arab forces with apparent success. By 745 CE, Fromo Kesaro's son, Bo Fuzhun, ascended to the throne, earning recognition in the Old Book of Tang and a military title from the Tang dynasty, indicative of a strategic alliance against expanding Islamic territories. The Chinese withdrawal around 760 CE, following their defeat at the Battle of Talas in 751 CE and the An Lushan Rebellion, diminished the Turk Shahis' geopolitical standing. Around 775–785 CE, a Turk Shahi ruler submitted to Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi's demand for allegiance.

The conflict persisted into the 9th century, with the Turk Shahis, led by Pati Dumi, seizing the opportunity presented by the Great Abbasid Civil War (811-819 CE) to invade Khorasan. However, their advances were curtailed around 814/815 CE when Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun's forces defeated them, pushing into Gandhara. This defeat forced the Turk Shahi ruler to convert to Islam, pay a significant annual tribute, and cede a valuable idol to the Abbasids. The final blow came around 822 CE when the last Turk Shahi ruler, Lagaturman, likely Pati Dumi's son, was deposed by his Brahmin minister, Kallar. This ushered in the era of the Hindu Shahi dynasty with its capital in Kabul. Meanwhile, to the south, the Zunbils continued to resist Muslim encroachments until succumbing to the Saffarid offensive in 870 CE.

Samanid Empire
Founded by four brothers—Nuh, Ahmad, Yahya, and Ilyas—under Abbasid suzerainty, the empire was unified by Ismail Samani (892–907) ©HistoryMaps
819 Jan 1 - 999

Samanid Empire

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

The Samanid Empire, of Iranian dehqan origin and Sunni Muslim faith, thrived from 819 to 999, centering in Khorasan and Transoxiana and at its zenith encompassing Persia and Central Asia. Founded by four brothers—Nuh, Ahmad, Yahya, and Ilyas—under Abbasid suzerainty, the empire was unified by Ismail Samani (892–907), marking both the end of its feudal system and its assertion of independence from the Abbasids. By 945, however, the empire saw its governance fall under the control of Turkic military slaves, with the Samanid family retaining only symbolic authority.

Significant for its role in the Iranian Intermezzo, the Samanid Empire was instrumental in integrating Persian culture and language within the Islamic world, laying the groundwork for the Turko-Persian cultural synthesis. The Samanids were notable patrons of the arts and sciences, fostering the careers of luminaries such as Rudaki, Ferdowsi, and Avicenna, and elevating Bukhara to a cultural rival of Baghdad. Their rule is marked by a revival of Persian culture and language, more so than their contemporaries the Buyids and Saffarids, while still employing Arabic for scientific and religious purposes. The Samanids prided themselves on their Sasanian heritage, famously asserting their Persian identity and language in their realm.

Saffarid Rule
Saffarid Rule in Afghanistan ©HistoryMaps
861 Jan 1 - 1002

Saffarid Rule

Zaranj, Afghanistan

The Saffarid dynasty, of eastern Iranian origin, ruled from 861 to 1002 over parts of Persia, Greater Khorasan, and eastern Makran. Emerging post-Islamic conquest, they were among the earliest indigenous Persian dynasties, marking the Iranian Intermezzo. Founded by Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar, born in 840 in Karnin, near modern-day Afghanistan, he transitioned from a coppersmith to a warlord, capturing Sistan and expanding his reach across Iran, Afghanistan, and into Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. From their capital, Zaranj, the Saffarids expanded aggressively, overthrowing the Tahirid dynasty and annexing Khorasan by 873. The Saffarids exploited silver mines in the Panjshir Valley to mint their coins, signifying their economic as well as military might.

Decline and Fall

Despite these conquests, the Abbasid caliphate acknowledged Ya'qub as the governor of Sistan, Fars, and Kerman, with the Saffarids even receiving offers for key positions in Baghdad. Ya'qub's conquests included the Kabul Valley, Sindh, Tocharistan, Makran, Kerman, Fars, and Khorasan, nearly reaching Baghdad before facing defeat by the Abbasids. After Ya'qub's death, the dynasty's decline accelerated. His brother and successor, Amr bin Laith, was defeated at the Battle of Balkh by Ismail Samani in 900, leading to the loss of Khorasan, diminishing the Saffarid domain to Fars, Kerman, and Sistan. Tahir ibn Muhammad ibn Amr led the dynasty (901–908) in its struggle against the Abbasids over Fars. A civil war in 908, involving Tahir and the challenger al-Laith b. 'Ali in Sistan, further weakened the dynasty. Subsequently, the governor of Fars defected to the Abbasids, and by 912, the Samanids ousted the Saffarids from Sistan, which briefly came under Abbasid rule before regaining independence under Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Muhammad. However, the Saffarids were now significantly reduced in power, confined to Sistan. The final blow to the Saffarid dynasty came in 1002 when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Sistan, overthrowing Khalaf I and conclusively ending Saffarid rule. This marked the dynasty's transition from a formidable force to a historical footnote, isolated in its final stronghold.

Ghaznavid Empire
Ghaznavid Rule in Afghanistan. ©History
977 Jan 1 - 1186

Ghaznavid Empire

Ghazni, Afghanistan

The Ghaznavid Empire, a Persianate Muslim dynasty of Turkic mamluk origin, ruled from 977 to 1186, covering parts of Iran, Khorasan, and the northwest Indian subcontinent at its zenith. Founded by Sabuktigin after the death of his father-in-law, Alp Tigin, a former Samanid Empire general from Balkh, the empire saw significant expansion under Sabuktigin's son, Mahmud of Ghazni. Mahmud extended the empire's reach to the Amu Darya, the Indus River, the Indian Ocean to the east, and to Rey and Hamadan in the west.

However, under Mas'ud I, the Ghaznavid dynasty began losing its western territories to the Seljuk Empire following the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040. This defeat led to the Ghaznavids retaining control only over areas that now comprise modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India. The decline continued when Sultan Bahram Shah lost Ghazni to the Ghurid sultan Ala al-Din Husayn in 1151. Although the Ghaznavids momentarily recaptured Ghazni, they eventually lost it to the Ghuzz Turks, who then lost it to Muhammad of Ghor. The Ghaznavids retreated to Lahore, which became their regional capital until 1186, when the Ghurid sultan, Muhammad of Ghor, conquered it, leading to the imprisonment and execution of the last Ghaznavid ruler, Khusrau Malik.


The emergence of the Simjurids and Ghaznavids from the ranks of the Turkic slave-guards significantly impacted the Samanid Empire. The Simjurids were granted territories in eastern Khorasan, while Alp Tigin and Abu al-Hasan Simjuri vied for control over the empire by influencing the succession after Abd al-Malik I's death in 961. This succession crisis and the rivalry for dominance led to Alp Tigin's retreat and subsequent rule over Ghazna as a Samanid authority after being rejected by the court, which favored civilian ministers over Turkic military leaders. The Simjurids, controlling areas south of the Amu Darya, faced pressures from the rising Buyid dynasty and could not withstand the Samanids' fall and the Ghaznavids' ascent. These internal conflicts and power struggles among Turkic generals and the shifting loyalty of the court's ministers highlighted and expedited the decline of the Samanid Empire. This weakening of Samanid authority invited the Karluks, newly Islamicized Turkic people, to occupy Bukhara in 992, leading to the establishment of the Kara-Khanid Khanate in Transoxiana, further fragmenting the region previously under Samanid influence.


Sabuktigin, originally a Turkic mamluk (slave-soldier), rose to prominence through military skill and strategic marriages, eventually marrying Alptigin's daughter. Alptigin had seized Ghazna from the Lawik rulers in 962, establishing a base of power that Sabuktigin would later inherit. Following Alptigin's death and a brief rule by his son and another former ghulam, Sabuktigin gained control of Ghazna by removing the harsh ruler Bilgetigin and the reinstated Lawik leader.

As governor of Ghazna, Sabuktigin expanded his influence at the behest of the Samanid emir, leading campaigns in Khurasan and acquiring governorships in Balkh, Tukharistan, Bamiyan, Ghur, and Gharchistan. He faced governance challenges, notably in Zabulistan, where he reversed the conversion of military fiefs into permanent ownerships to ensure the loyalty of the Turkic soldiery. His military and administrative actions strengthened his rule and secured additional territories, including an annual tribute from Qusdar in 976.

Upon Sabuktigin's death, his governance and military command were divided among his sons, with Ismail receiving Ghazna. Despite Sabuktigin's efforts to distribute power among his sons, a dispute over inheritance led Mahmud to challenge and defeat Ismail at the Battle of Ghazni in 998, capturing him and consolidating power. Sabuktigin's legacy included not only territorial expansion and military prowess but also the complex dynamics of succession within his dynasty, amidst the backdrop of the declining Samanid Empire.

Expansion and Golden Age

In 998, Mahmud of Ghazni ascended to the governorship, marking the beginning of the Ghaznavid dynasty's most illustrious era, closely tied to his leadership. He affirmed his allegiance to the caliph, justifying the replacement of the Samanids due to their alleged treason and was appointed governor of Khurasan with the titles Yamin al-Dawla and Amin al-Milla. Representing caliphal authority, Mahmud actively promoted Sunni Islam, engaging in campaigns against the Ismaili and Shi'ite Buyids and completing the conquest of Samanid and Shahi territories, including Multan in Sindh and parts of the Buwayhid domain. Mahmud's reign, considered the Ghaznavid Empire's golden age, was characterized by significant military expeditions, particularly into northern India, where he aimed to establish control and set up tributary states. His campaigns resulted in extensive looting and the expansion of Ghaznavid influence from Ray to Samarkand and from the Caspian Sea to the Yamuna.

Decline and Fall

After Mahmud of Ghazni's death, the Ghaznavid Empire passed to his mild and affectionate son Mohammed, whose rule was challenged by his brother Mas'ud over claims to three provinces. The conflict ended with Mas'ud seizing the throne, blinding, and imprisoning Mohammed. Mas'ud's tenure was marked by significant challenges, culminating in a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040 against the Seljuks, leading to the loss of Persian and Central Asian territories and initiating a period of instability. Attempting to salvage the empire from India, Mas'ud's efforts were undermined by his own forces, leading to his dethronement and imprisonment, where he was eventually assassinated. His son, Madood, attempted to consolidate power but faced resistance, marking the beginning of rapid changes in leadership and the empire's fragmentation.

During this tumultuous period, figures such as Ibrahim and Mas'ud III emerged, with Ibrahim noted for his contributions to the empire's cultural legacy, including significant architectural achievements. Despite attempts to stabilize the realm, internal strife and external pressures persisted, culminating in Sultan Bahram Shah's rule, during which Ghazni was briefly captured by the Ghurids, only to be retaken with Seljuk assistance. The final Ghaznavid ruler, Khusrau Malik, shifted the capital to Lahore, maintaining control until the Ghurid invasion in 1186, which led to his and his son's execution in 1191, effectively ending the Ghaznavid dynasty. This period marked the Ghaznavids' decline from a once-mighty empire to a historical footnote, overshadowed by emerging powers like the Seljuks and Ghurids.

Khwarazmian Empire
Khwarazmian Empire ©HistoryMaps
1077 Jan 1 - 1231

Khwarazmian Empire

Ghazni, Afghanistan

The Khwarazmian Empire, a Sunni Muslim empire of Turkic mamluk origin, emerged as a significant power in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran from 1077 to 1231. Initially serving as vassals to the Seljuk Empire and the Qara Khitai, they gained independence around 1190 and became known for their aggressive expansionism, overtaking rivals like the Seljuk and Ghurid Empires and even challenging the Abbasid Caliphate. At its zenith in the early 13th century, the Khwarazmian Empire was considered the preeminent power in the Muslim world, covering an estimated 2.3 to 3.6 million square kilometers.

Structured similarly to the Seljuk model, the empire boasted a formidable cavalry army predominantly composed of Kipchak Turks. This military prowess enabled it to become the dominant Turco-Persian empire before the Mongol onslaught. The Khwarazmian dynasty was initiated by Anush Tigin Gharachai, a Turkic slave who rose to prominence within the Seljuk Empire. It was under Ala ad-Din Atsiz, Anush Tigin's descendant, that Khwarazm asserted its independence, marking the start of a new era of sovereignty and expansion until its eventual conquest by the Mongols.

Ghurid Empire
Ghurid Empire. ©HistoryMaps
1148 Jan 1 - 1215

Ghurid Empire

Firozkoh, Afghanistan

The Ghurid dynasty, of eastern Iranian Tajik origin, ruled from the 8th century in Ghor, central Afghanistan, evolving into an empire from 1175 to 1215. Initially local chiefs, their conversion to Sunni Islam followed the Ghaznavid conquest in 1011. Gaining independence from Ghaznavid and later Seljuk vassalage, the Ghurids capitalized on regional power vacuums to expand their territory significantly. Ala al-Din Husayn asserted Ghurid autonomy by sacking the Ghaznavid capital, despite subsequent defeat by the Seljuks. The Seljuk decline in eastern Iran, coupled with the rise of the Khwarazmian Empire, shifted regional dynamics in the Ghurids' favor. Under the joint rule of Ala al-Din Husayn's nephews, Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad and Muhammad of Ghor, the empire reached its zenith, spanning eastern Iran to easternmost India, including vast areas of the Gangetic Plain. Ghiyath al-Din's focus on western expansion contrasted with Muhammad of Ghor's eastern campaigns. Ghiyath al-Din's death in 1203 from rheumatic disorders and Muhammad's assassination in 1206 marked the decline of Ghurid power in Khurasan. The dynasty's complete fall came in 1215 under Shah Muhammad II, although their conquests in the Indian Subcontinent persisted, evolving into the Delhi Sultanate under Qutb ud-Din Aibak.


Amir Banji, a Ghurid prince and ruler of Ghor, is recognized as an ancestor of the medieval Ghurid rulers, legitimized by Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid. Initially under Ghaznavid and Seljuk influence for about 150 years, the Ghurids asserted their independence in the mid-12th century. Their early religious affiliations were pagan, transitioning to Islam under the influence of Abu Ali ibn Muhammad. In a tumultuous period marked by internal conflict and revenge, Sayf al-Din Suri's defeat by Ghaznavid ruler Bahram-Shah and subsequent revenge by Ala al-Din Husayn characterized the Ghurids' rise to power. Ala al-Din Husayn, known as "the world burner" for sacking Ghazni, solidified Ghurid defiance against the Seljuks, enduring captivity and ransom before reclaiming Ghor and expanding its territories significantly. Under Ala al-Din Husayn's reign, the Ghurids established Firuzkuh as their capital, expanding into Garchistan, Tukharistan, and other areas, despite challenges from Oghuz Turks and internal rivals. The dynasty's growth saw the establishment of minor branches, intertwined with Turkic heritage, shaping the Ghurid legacy in the region.

Golden Age

The Ghurids, under Muhammad of Ghor's military prowess, reclaimed Ghazni from the Ghuzz Turks in 1173, asserting control over Herat in 1175, which, along with Firozkoh and Ghazni, became a cultural and political stronghold. Their influence expanded across Nīmrūz, Sīstān, and into Seljuk territory in Kerman. During the conquest of Khorasan in 1192, the Ghurids, led by Muhammad, challenged the Khwarezmian Empire and the Qara Khitai for dominance over the region, exploiting the vacuum left by the Seljuks' decline. They captured Khorasan, including Nishapur and reaching Besṭām, after the death of the Khwarezmian leader Tekish in 1200.

Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad, succeeding his cousin Sayf al-Din Muhammad, emerged as a formidable ruler with the support of his brother, Muhammad of Ghor. Their early reign was marked by eliminating a rival chief and defeating an uncle who contested the throne with the backing of the Seljuq governor of Herat and Balkh. Following Ghiyath's death in 1203, Muhammad of Ghor assumed control of the Ghurid Empire, continuing his rule until his assassination in 1206 by Ismāʿīlīs, against whom he had campaigned. This period highlights the Ghurid Empire's zenith and the intricate dynamics of regional power struggles, setting the stage for subsequent shifts in the historical landscape of the region.

Conquest of India

On the eve of the Ghurid invasion, northern India was a mosaic of independent Rajput kingdoms, such as the Chahamanas, Chaulukyas, Gahadavalas, and others like the Senas in Bengal, engaged in frequent conflicts. Muhammad of Ghor, launching a series of military campaigns between 1175 and 1205, significantly altered this landscape. Starting with the conquest of Multan and Uch, he expanded Ghurid control into the heart of northern India, overcoming challenges like the failed invasion of Gujarat in 1178 due to the harsh desert conditions and Rajput resistance.

By 1186, Muhammad had consolidated Ghurid power in Punjab and the Indus Valley, setting the stage for further expansions into India. His initial defeat by Prithviraja III at the First Battle of Tarain in 1191 was swiftly avenged the following year, leading to Prithviraja's capture and execution. Muhammad's subsequent victories, including the defeat of Jayachandra at Chandawar in 1194 and the sacking of Benares, showcased the Ghurids' military might and strategic acumen.

Muhammad of Ghor's conquests paved the way for the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate under his general, Qutb ud-Din Aibak, marking a significant shift in the political and cultural landscape of northern India. The demolition of Hindu temples and construction of mosques on their sites, alongside the sacking of Nalanda University by Bakhtiyar Khalji, underscored the transformative impact of the Ghurid invasion on the region's religious and scholarly institutions.

Following Muhammad's assassination in 1206, his empire fragmented into smaller sultanates governed by his Turkic generals, leading to the rise of the Delhi Sultanate. This period of turmoil eventually culminated in the consolidation of power under the Mamluk dynasty, the first of five dynasties to rule the Delhi Sultanate, which would dominate India until the advent of the Mughal Empire in 1526.

Mongol Invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire
Mongol Invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire ©HistoryMaps
1221 Jan 1

Mongol Invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire

Balkh, Afghanistan

The Mongol invasion of Afghanistan in 1221, following their victory over the Khwarazmian Empire, resulted in profound and lasting devastation across the region. The assault disproportionately affected sedentary towns and villages, with nomadic communities better positioned to evade the Mongol onslaught. A significant outcome was the deterioration of irrigation systems, critical for agriculture, leading to a demographic and economic shift towards the more defensible hill regions.

Balkh, once a thriving city, was obliterated, remaining in ruins even a century later as observed by the traveler Ibn Battuta. During the Mongols' pursuit of Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, they besieged Bamyan, and in response to the death of Genghis Khan's grandson Mutukan by a defender's arrow, they destroyed the city and massacred its population, earning it the grim epithet "City of Screams."

Herat, despite being razed, experienced reconstruction under the local Kart dynasty and later became part of the Ilkhanate. Meanwhile, territories extending from Balkh through Kabul to Kandahar fell under the Chagatai Khanate's control after the Mongol Empire fragmented. In contrast, the tribal areas south of the Hindu Kush maintained either alliances with the Khalji dynasty of northern India or retained their independence, illustrating the complex political landscape in the aftermath of the Mongol invasion.

Chagatai Khanate
Chagatai Khanate ©HistoryMaps
1227 Jan 1 - 1344

Chagatai Khanate

Qarshi, Uzbekistan

The Chagatai Khanate, established by Chagatai Khan, Genghis Khan's second son, was a Mongol realm that later underwent Turkification. Spanning from the Amu Darya to the Altai Mountains at its zenith, it encompassed territories once controlled by the Qara Khitai. Initially, the Chagatai khans acknowledged the Great Khan's supremacy, but autonomy increased over time, particularly during Kublai Khan's reign when Ghiyas-ud-din Baraq defied the central Mongol authority. The khanate's decline began in 1363 as it progressively lost Transoxiana to the Timurids, culminating in the emergence of Moghulistan, a reduced realm that persisted until the late 15th century. Moghulistan eventually fragmented into the Yarkent and Turpan Khanates. By 1680, the remaining Chagatai territories fell to the Dzungar Khanate, and in 1705, the last Chagatai khan was deposed, marking the end of the dynasty.

Timurid Empire
Tamerlane ©HistoryMaps
1370 Jan 1 - 1507

Timurid Empire

Herat, Afghanistan

Timur, also known as Tamerlane, significantly expanded his empire, incorporating vast areas of what is now Afghanistan. Herat became a prominent capital of the Timurid Empire under his rule, with Timur's grandson, Pir Muhammad, holding Kandahar. Timur's conquests included the reconstruction of Afghanistan's infrastructure, which had been devastated by earlier Mongol invasions. Under his governance, the region experienced substantial progress.

After Timur's death in 1405, his son Shah Rukh moved the Timurid capital to Herat, initiating a period of cultural flourishing known as the Timurid Renaissance. This era saw Herat rival Florence as a center of cultural rebirth, blending Central Asian Turkic and Persian cultures and leaving a lasting legacy on Afghanistan's cultural landscape.

By the early 16th century, Timurid rule waned with the ascent of Babur in Kabul, another of Timur's descendants. Babur admired Herat, once noting its unmatched beauty and importance. His ventures led to the establishment of the Mughal Empire in India, marking the beginning of significant Indo-Afghan influences in the subcontinent.

However, by the 16th century, western Afghanistan fell under Persian Safavid rule, shifting the region's political landscape once again. This period of Timurid and subsequent Safavid dominance over Afghanistan contributed to the rich tapestry of the country's historical and cultural heritage, influencing its development well into the modern era.

16th-17th century Afghanistan
Mughals ©HistoryMaps
1504 Jan 1

16th-17th century Afghanistan


From the 16th to the 17th century CE, Afghanistan was a crossroads of empires, divided among the Khanate of Bukhara in the north, the Iranian Shia Safavids in the west, and the Sunni Mughals of northern India in the east. Akbar the Great of the Mughal Empire incorporated Kabul as one of the empire's original twelve subahs, alongside Lahore, Multan, and Kashmir. Kabul served as a strategic province, bordering important regions and briefly encompassing Balkh and Badakhshan subahs. Kandahar, strategically located in the south, acted as a contested buffer between the Mughal and Safavid empires, with local Afghan loyalties often shifting between these two powers.

The period saw significant Mughal influence in the region, marked by Babur's exploration before his conquest of India. His inscriptions remain in Kandahar's Chilzina rock mountain, highlighting the cultural imprint left by the Mughals. Afghanistan retains architectural heritage from this era, including tombs, palaces, and forts, evidencing the historical ties and cultural exchange between Afghanistan and the Mughal Empire.

1504 - 1973
Modern Era in Afghanistan
Hotak Dynasty in Afghanistan
Hotak Dynasty in Afghanistan ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1709 Jan 1 - 1738

Hotak Dynasty in Afghanistan

Kandahar, Afghanistan

In 1704, George XI (Gurgīn Khān), a Georgian under Safavid Shah Husayn, was tasked with quelling Afghan rebellions in the Greater Kandahar region. His harsh rule led to the imprisonment and execution of numerous Afghans, including Mirwais Hotak, a prominent local leader. Although sent to Isfahan as a prisoner, Mirwais was eventually released and returned to Kandahar. By April 1709, Mirwais, with militia support, initiated a revolt that led to George XI's assassination. This marked the beginning of a successful resistance against several large Persian armies, culminating in Afghan control of Qandahar by 1713. Under Mirwais' leadership, southern Afghanistan became an independent Pashtun kingdom, though he declined the title of king, being recognized instead as "Prince of Qandahar." After Mirwais' death in 1715, his son Mahmud Hotaki assassinated his uncle Abdul Aziz Hotak and led an Afghan army into Persia, capturing Isfahan and declaring himself Shah in 1722. However, Mahmud's reign was brief and marred by opposition and internal strife, leading to his murder in 1725.

Shah Ashraf Hotaki, Mahmud's cousin, succeeded him but faced challenges from both the Ottomans and the Russian Empire, as well as internal dissent. The Hotaki dynasty, troubled by succession feuds and resistance, was eventually ousted by Nader Shah of the Afsharids in 1729, after which the Hotaki's influence was confined to southern Afghanistan until 1738, ending with the defeat of Shah Hussain Hotaki. This turbulent period in Afghan and Persian history underscores the complexities of regional politics and the impact of foreign rule on indigenous populations, leading to significant shifts in power dynamics and territorial control in the region.

Durrani Empire
Ahmad Shah Durrani ©HistoryMaps
1747 Jan 1 - 1823

Durrani Empire

Kandahar, Afghanistan

In 1738, Nader Shah's conquest of Kandahar, defeating Hussain Hotaki, marked the absorption of Afghanistan into his empire, with Kandahar rebranded as Naderabad. This period also saw the young Ahmad Shah join Nader Shah's ranks during his Indian campaign. The assassination of Nader Shah in 1747 led to the disintegration of the Afsharid empire. Amidst this chaos, 25-year-old Ahmad Khan rallied the Afghans in a loya jirga near Kandahar, where he was chosen as their leader, thereafter known as Ahmad Shah Durrani. Under his leadership, the Durrani Empire, named after the Durrani tribe, emerged as a formidable force, uniting the Pashtun tribes. Ahmad Shah's notable victory against the Maratha Empire at the Battle of Panipat in 1761 further solidified his empire's strength.

Ahmad Shah Durrani's retirement in 1772 and subsequent death in Kandahar left the empire to his son, Timur Shah Durrani, who moved the capital to Kabul. However, the Durrani legacy was marred by internal strife among Timur's successors, leading to the empire's gradual decline. The Durrani Empire included territories across Central Asia, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian Subcontinent, encompassing present-day Afghanistan, much of Pakistan, parts of Iran and Turkmenistan, and northwestern India. It was considered alongside the Ottoman Empire as one of the most significant Islamic empires of the 18th century. The Durrani Empire is heralded as the foundation of the modern Afghan nation-state, with Ahmad Shah Durrani celebrated as the nation's Father.

Barakzai Dynasty
Emir Dost Mohammed Khan ©HistoryMaps
1823 Jan 1 - 1978

Barakzai Dynasty


The Barakzai dynasty ruled over Afghanistan from its ascendancy in 1823 until the cessation of the monarchy in 1978. The dynasty's foundation is attributed to Emir Dost Mohammed Khan, who established his rule in Kabul by 1826 after displacing his brother, Sultan Mohammad Khan. Under the Muhammadzai era, Afghanistan was likened to the "Switzerland of Asia" due to its progressive modernity, a period reminiscent of the Pahlavi era's transformation in Iran. This era of reform and development contrasted with the challenges faced by the dynasty, including territorial losses and internal conflicts. Afghanistan's history during Barakzai rule was marked by internal strife and external pressures, evidenced by the Anglo-Afghan wars and a civil war in 1928–29, which tested the dynasty's resilience and shaped the nation's political landscape.


The Barakzai dynasty claim descent to the biblical King Saul,[18] establishing a connection through his grandson, Prince Afghana, who was raised by King Solomon. Prince Afghana, becoming a key figure in Solomon's era, later sought refuge at "Takht-e-Sulaiman," marking the beginning of his descendants' historical journey. In the 37th generation from Prince Afghana, Qais visited the Islamic prophet Muhammad in Medina, converted to Islam, adopting the name Abdul Rashid Pathan, and married a daughter of Khalid bin Walid, further intertwining the lineage with significant Islamic figures. This ancestral lineage led to Sulaiman, also known as "Zirak Khan," considered the progenitor of the Durrani Pashtuns, which include notable tribes such as the Barakzai, Popalzai, and Alakozai. The Barakzai name originates from Sulaiman's son, Barak, with "Barakzai" meaning "children of Barak"[19] thereby establishing the Barakzai's dynastic identity within the broader Pashtun tribal structure.

First Anglo-Afghan War
The last stand of the 44th Foot, during the Massacre of Elphinstone's Army ©William Barnes Wollen
1838 Oct 1 - 1842 Oct

First Anglo-Afghan War


The First Anglo-Afghan War, which took place from 1838 to 1842, marks a significant chapter in the history of the British Empire's military engagements, as well as the broader geopolitical struggle known as the Great Game—a 19th-century rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia.

The war began under the pretext of a succession dispute in Afghanistan. The British Empire sought to install Shah Shujah, a former king from the Durrani dynasty, to the throne of the Emirate of Kabul, challenging the then-ruler Dost Mohammad Khan of the Barakzai dynasty. The British’s motivation was twofold: to have a friendly regime in Afghanistan that would counter Russian influence and to control the approaches to British India.

In August 1839, after a successful invasion, the British managed to occupy Kabul, reinstalling Shah Shujah to power. Despite this initial success, the British and their Indian auxiliaries faced numerous challenges, including harsh winters and growing resistance from Afghan tribes.

The situation took a dire turn in 1842 when the main British force, along with its camp followers, attempted a retreat from Kabul. This retreat turned catastrophic, leading to a near-total massacre of the retreating force. This event starkly illustrated the difficulties of maintaining an occupying force in hostile territory, especially one as geographically challenging and politically complex as Afghanistan.

In response to this disaster, the British launched the Army of Retribution, aimed at punishing those responsible for the massacre and recovering prisoners. After achieving these objectives, British forces withdrew from Afghanistan by the end of 1842, leaving Dost Mohammad Khan to return from exile in India and resume his rule.

The First Anglo-Afghan War is emblematic of the era's imperialistic ambitions and the inherent risks of military interventions in foreign lands. It also highlighted the complexities of Afghan society and the formidable resistance offered by its people against foreign occupation. This war, as an early episode in the Great Game, set the stage for further Anglo-Russian rivalry in the region and underscored Afghanistan's strategic importance in global geopolitics.

Great Game
Artistic Representation of the Great Game in Afghanistan played between the British and Russian Empires. ©HistoryMaps
1846 Jan 1 - 1907

Great Game

Central Asia

The Great Game, a term emblematic of the 19th-century geopolitical chess match between the British and Russian empires, was a complex saga of imperial ambition, strategic rivalry, and the manipulation of geopolitical landscapes across Central and South Asia. This prolonged period of rivalry and intrigue aimed at expanding influence and control over key regions such as Afghanistan, Persia (Iran), and Tibet, underscores the lengths to which these empires would go to secure their interests and buffer zones against perceived threats.

Central to the Great Game was the fear and anticipation of each other's moves. The British Empire, with its jewel colony India, feared Russian moves southward could pose a direct threat to its most prized possession. Conversely, Russia, expanding aggressively across Central Asia, saw the creeping influence of Britain as a barrier to its ambitions. This dynamic set the stage for a series of military campaigns, espionage activities, and diplomatic maneuvers stretching from the Caspian Sea to the eastern Himalayas.

Despite the intense rivalry, direct conflict between the two powers in the region was avoided, largely due to the strategic use of diplomacy, local proxy wars, and the establishment of spheres of influence through agreements such as the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. This agreement not only marked the formal end of the Great Game but also delineated spheres of influence in Afghanistan, Persia, and Tibet, effectively drawing a line under a period of intense rivalry that had shaped the geopolitical contours of Central and South Asia.

The significance of the Great Game extends beyond its historical period, influencing the political landscape of the regions involved and laying the groundwork for future conflicts and alignments. The legacy of the Great Game is evident in the modern political boundaries and conflicts of Central Asia, as well as in the enduring caution and rivalry between global powers in the region. The Great Game is a testament to the enduring impact of colonial ambitions on the world stage, illustrating how geopolitical strategies and imperial competitions of the past continue to echo in the present.

Second Anglo-Afghan War
British Royal Horse Artillery withdrawing at the Battle of Maiwand ©Richard Caton Woodville
1878 Nov 1 - 1880

Second Anglo-Afghan War


The Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880) involved the British Raj and the Emirate of Afghanistan, under Sher Ali Khan of the Barakzai dynasty. It was part of the larger Great Game between Britain and Russia. The conflict unfolded in two main campaigns: the first started with the British invasion in November 1878, leading to Sher Ali Khan's flight. His successor, Mohammad Yaqub Khan, sought peace, culminating in the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879. However, the British envoy in Kabul was killed in September 1879, rekindling the war. The second campaign concluded with the British defeating Ayub Khan in September 1880 near Kandahar. Abdur Rahman Khan was then installed as Amir, endorsing the Gandamak treaty and establishing the desired buffer against Russia, after which British forces withdrew.


Following the Congress of Berlin in June 1878, which eased tensions between Russia and Britain in Europe, Russia shifted its focus to Central Asia, dispatching an unsolicited diplomatic mission to Kabul. Despite efforts by Sher Ali Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan, to prevent their entry, Russian envoys arrived on 22 July 1878. Subsequently, on 14 August, Britain demanded that Sher Ali also accept a British diplomatic mission. The Amir, however, refused to admit the mission led by Neville Bowles Chamberlain and threatened to obstruct it. In response, Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India, sent a diplomatic mission to Kabul in September 1878. When this mission was turned back near the Khyber Pass's eastern entrance, it ignited the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

First Phase

The initial phase of the Second Anglo-Afghan War commenced in November 1878, with around 50,000 British forces, primarily Indian soldiers, entering Afghanistan through three distinct routes. Key victories at Ali Masjid and Peiwar Kotal left the pathway to Kabul almost unguarded. In response, Sher Ali Khan moved to Mazar-i-Sharif, aiming to stretch British resources thin across Afghanistan, hinder their southern occupation, and incite Afghan tribal uprisings, a strategy reminiscent of Dost Mohammad Khan and Wazir Akbar Khan during the First Anglo-Afghan War. With over 15,000 Afghan soldiers in Afghan Turkestan and preparations for further recruitment underway, Sher Ali sought Russian aid but was denied entry into Russia and advised to negotiate surrender with the British. He returned to Mazar-i-Sharif, where his health deteriorated, leading to his death on 21 February 1879.

Prior to heading to Afghan Turkestan, Sher Ali released several long-imprisoned governors, promising the restoration of their states for their support against the British. However, disillusioned by past betrayals, some governors, notably Muhammad Khan of Sar-I-Pul and Husain Khan of the Maimana Khanate, declared independence and expelled Afghan garrisons, triggering Turkmen raids and further instability.

Sher Ali's demise ushered in a succession crisis. Muhammad Ali Khan's attempt to seize Takhtapul was thwarted by a mutinous garrison, forcing him southward to muster an opposing force. Yaqub Khan was then proclaimed Amir, amid arrests of sardars suspected of Afzalid allegiance. Under the occupation of British forces in Kabul, Yaqub Khan, the son and successor of Sher Ali, consented to the Treaty of Gandamak on 26 May 1879. This treaty mandated Yaqub Khan to relinquish Afghan foreign affairs to British control in exchange for an annual subsidy and uncertain promises of support against foreign invasion. The treaty also established British representatives in Kabul and other strategic locations, gave Britain control over the Khyber and Michni passes, and led to Afghanistan ceding territories including Quetta and the fort of Jamrud in the North-West Frontier Province to Britain. Additionally, Yaqub Khan agreed to cease any interference in the internal matters of the Afridi tribe. In return, he was to receive an annual subsidy of 600,000 rupees, with Britain agreeing to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan, excluding Kandahar.

However, the agreement's fragile peace was shattered on 3 September 1879 when an uprising in Kabul resulted in the assassination of Sir Louis Cavagnari, the British envoy, along with his guards and staff. This incident reignited hostilities, marking the commencement of the Second Anglo-Afghan War's next phase.

Second Phase

In the first campaign's climax, Major General Sir Frederick Roberts led the Kabul Field Force through the Shutargardan Pass, defeating the Afghan Army at Charasiab on 6 October 1879, and occupied Kabul shortly after. A significant uprising led by Ghazi Mohammad Jan Khan Wardak attacked British forces near Kabul in December 1879 but was quelled after a failed assault on 23 December. Yaqub Khan, implicated in the Cavagnari massacre, was forced to abdicate. The British deliberated over Afghanistan's future governance, considering various successors, including partitioning the country or installing Ayub Khan or Abdur Rahman Khan as Amir.

Abdur Rahman Khan, in exile and initially barred by the Russians from entering Afghanistan, capitalized on the political vacuum post-Yaqub Khan's abdication and the British occupation of Kabul. He traversed to Badakhshan, bolstered by marriage ties and a claimed visionary encounter, capturing Rostaq and annexing Badakhshan after a successful military campaign. Despite initial resistance, Abdur Rahman consolidated control over Afghan Turkestan, aligning with forces opposed to Yaqub Khan's appointees.

The British sought a stable ruler for Afghanistan, identifying Abdur Rahman as a potential candidate despite his resistance and the insistence on jihad from his followers. Amidst negotiations, the British aimed for a swift resolution to withdraw forces, influenced by the administrative change from Lytton to the Marquis of Ripon. Abdur Rahman, leveraging the British desire for withdrawal, solidified his position and was recognized as Amir in July 1880, after securing support from various tribal leaders.

Simultaneously, Ayub Khan, the governor of Herat, rebelled, notably at the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880, but was ultimately defeated by Roberts' forces at the Battle of Kandahar on 1 September 1880, quashing his insurrection and concluding his challenge to British and Abdur Rahman's authority.


After Ayub Khan's defeat, the Second Anglo-Afghan War concluded with Abdur Rahman Khan emerging as the victor and the new Amir of Afghanistan. In a significant turn, the British, despite initial reluctance, returned Kandahar to Afghanistan and Rahman reaffirmed the Treaty of Gandamak, which saw Afghanistan cede territorial control to the British but regain autonomy over its internal affairs. This treaty also marked the end of the British ambition to maintain a resident in Kabul, opting instead for indirect liaison through British Indian Muslim agents and control over Afghanistan's foreign policy in return for protection and a subsidy. These measures, ironically in line with Sher Ali Khan's earlier desires, established Afghanistan as a buffer state between the British Raj and Russian Empire, potentially avoidable had they been applied sooner.

The war proved costly for Britain, with expenses ballooning to approximately 19.5 million pounds by March 1881, far exceeding initial estimates. Despite Britain's intent to safeguard Afghanistan from Russian influence and establish it as an ally, Abdur Rahman Khan adopted an autocratic rule reminiscent of Russian Tsars and frequently acted in defiance of British expectations. His reign, marked by severe measures including atrocities that shocked even Queen Victoria, earned him the moniker 'Iron Amir'. Abdur Rahman's governance, characterized by secrecy about military capabilities and direct diplomatic engagements contrary to agreements with Britain, challenged British diplomatic efforts. His advocacy for Jihad against both British and Russian interests further strained relations.

However, no significant conflicts arose between Afghanistan and British India during Abdur Rahman's rule, with Russia maintaining a distance from Afghan affairs except for the Panjdeh incident, which was resolved diplomatically. The establishment of the Durand Line in 1893 by Mortimer Durand and Abdur Rahman, demarcating the spheres of influence between Afghanistan and British India, fostered improved diplomatic relations and trade, while creating the North-West Frontier Province, solidifying the geopolitical landscape between the two entities.

Third Anglo-Afghan War
Afghan warriors in 1922 ©John Hammerton
1919 May 6 - Aug 8

Third Anglo-Afghan War


The Third Anglo-Afghan War commenced on 6 May 1919 with an Afghan invasion of British India, concluding with an armistice on 8 August 1919. This conflict led to the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919, whereby Afghanistan regained control over its foreign affairs from Britain, and the British recognized the Durand Line as the official border between Afghanistan and British India.


The Third Anglo-Afghan War's origins lay in the longstanding British perception of Afghanistan as a potential conduit for Russian invasion into India, part of the strategic rivalry known as the Great Game. Throughout the 19th century, this concern led to the First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars as Britain sought to influence Kabul's policies. Despite these conflicts, the period following the Second Anglo-Afghan War in 1880 until the early 20th century was marked by relatively positive relations between Britain and Afghanistan, under the rule of Abdur Rahman Khan and his successor, Habibullah Khan. Britain managed Afghan foreign policy indirectly through a substantial subsidy, maintaining Afghanistan's independence but with significant influence over its external affairs as per the Treaty of Gandamak.

Upon Abdur Rahman Khan's death in 1901, Habibullah Khan ascended to the throne, maintaining a pragmatic stance between Britain and Russia to serve Afghan interests. Despite Afghan neutrality during the First World War and resistance to pressures from the Central Powers and the Ottoman Empire, Habibullah entertained a Turkish-German mission and accepted military assistance, attempting to navigate between the warring powers for Afghanistan's benefit.

Habibullah's efforts to maintain neutrality, while simultaneously dealing with internal pressures and British and Russian interests, culminated in his assassination in February 1919. This event precipitated a power struggle, with Amanullah Khan, Habibullah's third son, emerging as the new Amir amidst internal dissent and a backdrop of rising civil unrest in India post-Amritsar massacre. Amanullah's initial reforms and promises of independence aimed to solidify his rule but also reflected a desire for a definitive break from British influence, leading to his decision to invade British India in 1919, thus sparking the Third Anglo-Afghan War.


The Third Anglo-Afghan War began on 3 May 1919 when Afghan forces invaded British India, capturing the strategic town of Bagh, disrupting the water supply to Landi Kotal. In response, Britain declared war on Afghanistan on 6 May and mobilized its forces. British forces faced logistical and defensive challenges but succeeded in repelling Afghan attacks, including at 'Stonehenge Ridge', showcasing the intensity and geographical spread of the conflict.

The war's dynamics shifted as disaffection among the Khyber Rifles and logistical strains on British forces in the region highlighted the complexities of frontier warfare. The war's final stages saw intense fighting around Thal, with British forces overcoming numerical and logistical disadvantages to secure the area, aided by RAF support against tribal forces.

In 8 August 1919, the Treaty of Rawalpindi marked the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War, with the British ceding control over Afghan foreign affairs back to Afghanistan. This treaty is a significant milestone in Afghan history, leading to the celebration of 19 August as Afghanistan's Independence Day, commemorating the nation's emancipation from British influence in its external relations.

Afghan Civil War (1928–1929)
Red army troops in Afghanistan. ©Anonymous
1928 Nov 14 - 1929 Oct 13

Afghan Civil War (1928–1929)


Amanullah Khan Reforms

Following the Third Anglo-Afghan War, King Amanullah Khan aimed to break Afghanistan's historical isolation. After suppressing the Khost rebellion in 1925, he established diplomatic relations with many major nations. Inspired by a 1927 tour of Europe and Turkey, where he observed Atatürk's modernization efforts, Amanullah introduced several reforms aimed at modernizing Afghanistan. Mahmud Tarzi, his Foreign Minister and father-in-law, played a crucial role in these changes, especially advocating for women's education. Tarzi supported Article 68 of Afghanistan's first constitution, which mandated elementary education for all.

However, some reforms, such as the abolition of the traditional Muslim veil for women and the establishment of co-educational schools, quickly met with opposition from tribal and religious leaders. This discontent sparked the Shinwari revolt in November 1928, leading into the Afghan Civil War of 1928-1929. Despite the initial suppression of the Shinwari uprising, broader conflict ensued, challenging Amanullah's reformist agenda.

Afghan Civil War

The Afghan Civil War, spanning from 14 November 1928 to 13 October 1929, was characterized by the conflict between Saqqawist forces led by Habibullāh Kalakāni and various tribal, monarchic, and anti-Saqqawist factions within Afghanistan. Mohammed Nādir Khān emerged as a key figure against the Saqqawists, culminating in his ascension as king following their defeat.

The conflict ignited with the Shinwari tribe's revolt in Jalalabad, partly due to Amanullah Khan's progressive policies on women's rights. Concurrently, the Saqqawists, rallying in the north, captured Jabal al-Siraj and subsequently Kabul on 17 January 1929, marking significant early victories, including later seizing Kandahar. Despite these gains, Kalakani's rule was marred by accusations of severe misconduct, including rape and looting.

Nadir Khan, aligning with anti-Saqqawist sentiments and after a protracted stalemate, decisively forced Saqqawist forces into retreat, capturing Kabul and ending the civil war on 13 October 1929. The conflict saw approximately 7,500 combat fatalities and instances of widespread sacking during the capture of Kabul by Nadir's forces. Post-war, Nadir Khan's refusal to restore Amanullah to the throne sparked several rebellions, and Amanullah's later failed attempt to reclaim power during World War II with Axis support underscored the enduring legacies of this turbulent period in Afghan history.

Kingdom of Afghanistan
Mohammed Nadir Khan, King of Afganistan (b.1880-d.1933) ©Anonymous
1929 Nov 15 - 1973 Jul 17

Kingdom of Afghanistan


Mohammed Nadir Khan ascended to the Afghan throne on 15 October 1929, after defeating Habibullah Kalakani and subsequently executing him on 1 November of the same year. His reign focused on consolidating power and rejuvenating the country, opting for a more cautious path to modernization than his predecessor Amanullah Khan's ambitious reforms. Nadir Khan's tenure was cut short by his assassination in 1933 by a Kabul student, in an act of revenge.

Mohammad Zahir Shah, Nadir Khan's 19-year-old son, succeeded him, ruling from 1933 to 1973. His reign faced challenges, including tribal revolts between 1944 and 1947, spearheaded by leaders like Mazrak Zadran and Salemai. Initially, Zahir Shah's governance was under the influential guidance of his uncle, Prime Minister Sardar Mohammad Hashim Khan, who maintained Nadir Khan's policies. In 1946, another uncle, Sardar Shah Mahmud Khan, took over as Prime Minister, initiating political liberalization that was later retracted due to its extensive reach.

Mohammed Daoud Khan, Zahir Shah's cousin and brother-in-law, became Prime Minister in 1953, seeking closer ties with the Soviet Union and distancing Afghanistan from Pakistan. His tenure saw an economic crisis due to disputes with Pakistan, leading to his resignation in 1963. Zahir Shah then assumed a more direct role in governance until 1973.

In 1964, Zahir Shah introduced a liberal constitution, establishing a bicameral legislature with a mix of appointed, elected, and indirectly selected deputies. This period, known as Zahir's "experiment in democracy," allowed political parties to flourish, including the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which aligned closely with Soviet ideology. The PDPA split in 1967 into two factions: Khalq, led by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, and Parcham, under Babrak Karmal, highlighting the ideological and political diversity emerging in Afghan politics.

Contemporary Era in Afghanistan
Republic of Afghanistan (1973–1978)
Mohammed Daoud Khan ©National Museum of the U.S. Navy
1973 Jul 17 - 1978 Apr 27

Republic of Afghanistan (1973–1978)


Amid corruption charges and malfeasance against the royal family and the poor economic conditions created by the severe 1971–72 drought, former Prime Minister Mohammad Sardar Daoud Khan seized power in a non-violent coup on July 17, 1973, while Zahir Shah was receiving treatment for eye problems and therapy for lumbago in Italy. Daoud abolished the monarchy, abrogated the 1964 constitution, and declared Afghanistan a republic with himself as its first President and Prime Minister.

The Republic of Afghanistan was the first republic in Afghanistan. It is often called the Daoud Republic or the Jamhuriyye-Sardaran (Republic of the Princes), as it was established in July 1973 after General Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan of the Barakzai dynasty alongside senior Barakzai Princes deposed his cousin, King Mohammad Zahir Shah, in a coup d'état. Daoud Khan was known for his autocracy and attempts to modernize the country with help from both the Soviet Union and the United States, among others. His attempts to carry out badly needed economic and social reforms met with little success, and the new constitution promulgated in February 1977 failed to quell chronic political instability.

In 1978, a military coup known as the Saur Revolution took place, instigated by the Soviet-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, in which Daoud and his family were killed.

People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan
The day after the Saur revolution in Kabul. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1978 Apr 28 - 1989

People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan


On 28 April 1978, the Saur Revolution marked the overthrow of Mohammad Daoud's government by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), led by figures like Nur Mohammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal, and Amin Taha. This coup resulted in Daoud's assassination, ushering in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan under PDPA rule, which lasted until April 1992.

The PDPA, once in power, initiated a Marxist-Leninist reform agenda, secularizing laws and promoting women's rights, including banning forced marriages and recognizing women's suffrage. Significant reforms included socialist land reforms and moves towards state atheism, along with economic modernization efforts with Soviet assistance, highlighting a transformative but turbulent period in Afghan history.

However, these reforms, particularly the secularization efforts and the suppression of traditional Islamic customs, sparked widespread unrest. Repression by the PDPA resulted in thousands of deaths and imprisonments, contributing to mass revolts across the country, particularly in rural areas. This widespread opposition laid the groundwork for the Soviet Union's intervention in December 1979, aiming to support the faltering PDPA regime.

The Soviet occupation faced fierce resistance from Afghan mujahideen, bolstered by significant international support, notably from the United States and Saudi Arabia. This support included financial aid and military equipment, escalating the conflict into a major Cold War confrontation.

The Soviet's brutal campaign, characterized by mass killings, rapes, and forced displacements, led to millions of Afghan refugees fleeing to neighboring countries and beyond. International pressure and the high cost of the occupation eventually forced the Soviets to withdraw in 1989, leaving a deeply scarred Afghanistan and setting the stage for further conflict in the years that followed, despite continued Soviet support for the Afghan government until 1992.

Soviet–Afghan War
Soviet–Afghan War. ©HistoryMaps
1979 Dec 24 - 1989 Feb 15

Soviet–Afghan War


The Soviet-Afghan War, lasting from 1979 to 1989, was a pivotal conflict of the Cold War, characterized by heavy combat between the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), Soviet forces, and Afghan mujahideen guerrillas supported by various international actors including Pakistan, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Iran, and Gulf Arab states. This foreign involvement turned the war into a proxy battle between the US and the Soviet Union, predominantly fought across Afghanistan's rural landscapes. The war resulted in up to 3 million Afghan casualties and displaced millions, significantly impacting Afghanistan's population and infrastructure.

Initiated by a Soviet invasion aimed at supporting the pro-Soviet PDPA government, the war drew international condemnation, leading to sanctions against the Soviet Union. Soviet forces aimed to secure urban centers and communication routes, expecting a quick stabilization of the PDPA regime followed by withdrawal. However, faced with intense mujahideen resistance and challenging terrain, the conflict extended, with Soviet troop levels reaching approximately 115,000.

The war exerted considerable strain on the Soviet Union, consuming military, economic, and political resources. By the mid-1980s, under Mikhail Gorbachev's reformist agenda, the Soviet Union initiated a phased withdrawal, completed by February 1989. The withdrawal left the PDPA to fend for itself in a continuing conflict, leading to its eventual fall in 1992 after Soviet support ended, precipitating another civil war. The profound impacts of the Soviet-Afghan War include its contribution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War, and leaving a legacy of destruction and political instability in Afghanistan.

First Afghan Civil War
First Afghan Civil War ©HistoryMaps
1989 Feb 15 - 1992 Apr 27

First Afghan Civil War

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

The First Afghan Civil War spanned from the Soviet withdrawal on 15 February 1989 to the establishment of a new interim Afghan government as per the Peshawar Accords on 27 April 1992. This period was marked by intense conflict between mujahideen factions and the Soviet-backed Republic of Afghanistan in Kabul. The mujahideen, loosely united under the "Afghan Interim Government," viewed their fight as a struggle against what they considered a puppet regime.

A significant battle during this period was the Battle of Jalalabad in March 1989, where the Afghan Interim Government, aided by Pakistan's ISI, failed to capture the city from government forces, leading to strategic and ideological fractures within the mujahideen, notably causing Hekmatyar's Hezbi Islami to withdraw support for the Interim Government.

By March 1992, the withdrawal of Soviet support left President Mohammad Najibullah vulnerable, prompting his agreement to resign in favor of a mujahideen coalition government. However, disagreements over the formation of this government, particularly by Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, led to the invasion of Kabul. This action ignited a civil war among multiple mujahideen groups, rapidly evolving into a multifaceted conflict that involved up to six different factions within weeks, setting the stage for a prolonged period of instability and warfare in Afghanistan.


The mujahideen resistance was diverse and fragmented, consisting of numerous groups with varying regional, ethnic, and religious affiliations. By the mid-1980s, seven major Sunni Islamic rebel groups had united to fight against the Soviets. Despite the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989, conflicts persisted, infighting among mujahideen factions was rampant, with Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, noted for its aggression towards other resistance groups, including those led by Massoud. These internal conflicts often involved gruesome acts of violence and were compounded by accusations of treachery and ceasefires with enemy forces. Despite these challenges, leaders like Massoud sought to promote Afghan unity and pursue justice through legal means rather than retaliation.

Battle of Jalalabad

In spring 1989, the mujahideen's Seven-Party Union, backed by Pakistan's ISI, launched an assault on Jalalabad aiming to establish a mujahideen-led government, potentially under Hekmatyar's leadership. The motivations behind this attack appear complex, involving both a desire to oust the Marxist regime in Afghanistan and to prevent support for separatist movements within Pakistan. The involvement of the United States, particularly through Ambassador Robert B. Oakley, suggests international dimensions to the ISI's strategy, with the Americans seeking retribution for Vietnam by ousting Marxists from Afghanistan.

The operation, involving forces from Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin and Ittehad-e Islami along with Arab fighters, initially showed promise as they captured the Jalalabad airfield. However, the mujahideen faced stiff resistance from well-defended Afghan army positions, supported by intensive air strikes and Scud missile attacks. The siege turned into a protracted battle, with the mujahideen unable to breach Jalalabad's defenses, suffering significant casualties and failing to achieve their objective. The Afghan army's successful defense of Jalalabad, particularly the use of Scud missiles, marked a significant moment in modern military history.

The battle's aftermath saw the mujahideen forces demoralized, with thousands of casualties and a substantial civilian toll. The failure to capture Jalalabad and establish a mujahideen government represented a strategic setback, challenging the mujahideen's momentum and altering the course of the Afghan conflict.

Second Afghan Civil War
Second Afghan Civil War ©HistoryMaps
1992 Apr 28 - 1996 Sep 27

Second Afghan Civil War


The Second Afghan Civil War from 1992 to 1996 followed the disintegration of the Soviet-backed Republic of Afghanistan, marked by the mujahideen's refusal to form a coalition government, leading to intense conflict among various factions. Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and supported by Pakistan's ISI, attempted to capture Kabul, resulting in widespread fighting that eventually involved up to six mujahideen armies. This period saw fleeting alliances and a continuous struggle for power within Afghanistan.

The Taliban, emerging with support from Pakistan and the ISI, rapidly gained control, capturing major cities including Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, and ultimately Kabul by September 1996. This victory led to the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and set the stage for further conflict with the Northern Alliance in the subsequent civil war from 1996 to 2001.

The war significantly impacted Kabul's demographic, with the population decreasing from two million to 500,000 due to mass displacement. The Afghan Civil War of 1992–1996, characterized by its brutality and the suffering it caused, remains a pivotal and devastating chapter in Afghanistan's history, deeply influencing the nation's political and social fabric.

Battle of Kabul

Throughout 1992, Kabul became a battleground with mujahideen factions engaging in heavy artillery and rocket attacks, contributing to significant civilian casualties and infrastructure damage. The conflict's intensity did not wane in 1993, despite several attempts at ceasefires and peace accords, all of which failed due to ongoing rivalries and mistrust among the factions.

By 1994, the conflict expanded beyond Kabul, with new alliances forming, notably between Dostum's Junbish-i Milli and Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin, further complicating the civil war landscape. This year also marked the Taliban's emergence as a formidable force, capturing Kandahar and rapidly gaining territory across Afghanistan.

The civil war landscape in 1995–96 saw the Taliban capturing strategic locations and approaching Kabul, challenging the interim government led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah Massoud's forces. The Taliban's momentum and Pakistani support prompted the formation of new alliances among rival factions in a bid to halt the Taliban's advance. However, these efforts were in vain as the Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and marking a new chapter in the country's tumultuous history.

Taliban and the United Front
United Front (Northern Alliance). ©HistoryMaps
1996 Jan 1 - 2001

Taliban and the United Front


On 26 September 1996, facing a significant offensive by the Taliban, who were backed militarily by Pakistan and financially by Saudi Arabia, Ahmad Shah Massoud ordered a strategic withdrawal from Kabul. The Taliban captured the city the following day, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and imposing their strict interpretation of Islamic law, which included severe restrictions on the rights of women and girls.

In response to the Taliban's takeover, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum, once adversaries, united to form the United Front (Northern Alliance) to resist the Taliban's expansion. This coalition brought together Massoud's Tajik forces, Dostum's Uzbeks, along with Hazara factions and Pashtun forces led by various commanders, controlling about 30% of Afghanistan's population in key northern provinces.

By early 2001, Massoud had adopted a dual approach of exerting military pressure locally while seeking international support for their cause, advocating for "popular consensus, general elections and democracy." Aware of the shortcomings of the early 1990s Kabul government, he initiated police training aimed at protecting civilians, anticipating a successful overthrow of the Taliban.

Massoud's international efforts included addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, where he requested humanitarian assistance for Afghans and criticized the Taliban and Al Qaeda for their distortion of Islam. He argued that the Taliban's military campaign was unsustainable without Pakistani support, highlighting the complex regional dynamics affecting Afghanistan's stability.

War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
A US soldier and an Afghan interpreter in Zabul, 2009 ©DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini.
2001 Oct 7 - 2021 Aug 30

War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)


The War in Afghanistan, spanning from 2001 to 2021, was initiated in response to the September 11 attacks. Led by the United States, an international coalition launched Operation Enduring Freedom to oust the Taliban government, which harbored al-Qaeda operatives responsible for the attacks. Despite the initial military success that established the Islamic Republic and displaced the Taliban from major cities, the conflict evolved into the United States' longest war, culminating in the Taliban's resurgence and eventual takeover in 2021.

Post-September 11, the US demanded the extradition of Osama bin Laden from the Taliban, who refused without evidence of his involvement. Following the Taliban's expulsion, the international community, under a UN-sanctioned mission, aimed to establish a democratic Afghan government to prevent a Taliban resurgence. Despite these efforts, by 2003, the Taliban had regrouped, launching a widespread insurgency that regained significant territories by 2007.

In 2011, a US operation in Pakistan eliminated Osama bin Laden, prompting NATO to transition security responsibilities to the Afghan government by the end of 2014. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, including the 2020 US-Taliban deal, ultimately failed to stabilize Afghanistan, leading to the Taliban's rapid offensive and re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate as US and NATO forces withdrew.

The war resulted in the deaths of an estimated 176,000–212,000 people, including 46,319 civilians, and displaced millions, with 2.6 million Afghans remaining refugees and another 4 million internally displaced by 2021. The conflict's end marked a significant moment in global politics, reflecting the complexities of international military interventions and the challenges of achieving lasting peace in regions with deep-seated political and ideological divisions.

Fall of Kabul
Taliban fighters patrolling Kabul in a Humvee, 17 August 2021 ©Voice of America News
2021 Aug 15

Fall of Kabul


In 2021, the withdrawal of U.S. forces and their allies from Afghanistan led to a significant power shift, culminating in the Taliban's swift takeover of Kabul on 15 August. The Afghan government under President Ghani collapsed, leading to his flight to Tajikistan and the subsequent formation of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan by anti-Taliban groups in the Panjshir Valley. Despite their efforts, the Taliban established an interim government led by Mohammad Hassan Akhund on 7 September, yet this administration has not gained international recognition.

The takeover has precipitated a severe humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, exacerbated by the suspension of most foreign aid and the freezing of approximately $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets by the United States. This has severely hindered the Taliban's access to funds, contributing to an economic collapse and a broken banking system. By November 2021, Human Rights Watch reported widespread famine across the country. The situation has continued to deteriorate, with the UN World Food Program highlighting escalating food insecurity. By December 2023, the WHO reported that 30% of Afghans were facing acute food insecurity, with nearly 1 million children severely malnourished and an additional 2.3 million experiencing moderate acute malnutrition, underscoring the profound impact of political instability on the civilian population's well-being.

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Why Afghanistan Is Impossible to Conquer

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Why is Afghanistan so Strategic?

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Mirwais Hotak

Mirwais Hotak

Founder of the Hotak dynasty

Malalai of Maiwand

Malalai of Maiwand

National folk hero of Afghanistan

Amanullah Khan

Amanullah Khan

King of Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah Durrani

Ahmad Shah Durrani

1st Emir of the Durrani Empire

Mohammad Daoud Khan

Mohammad Daoud Khan

Prime Minister of Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai

Fourth President of Afghanistan

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Mujahideen Leader

Babrak Karmal

Babrak Karmal

President of Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah Massoud

Ahmad Shah Massoud

Minister of Defense of Afghanistan

Zahir Shah

Zahir Shah

Last King of Afghanistan

Abdur Rahman Khan

Abdur Rahman Khan

Amir of Afghanistan


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