Main article: History of Afghanistan
Afghanistan, often called the crossroads of Central Asia, has had a very turbulent history. Through the ages, Afghanistan has been occupied by many forces including Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great.
The Afghanistan nation-state as it is known today came into existence in 1746 under the Durrani Empire, but control was ceded to the United Kingdom until King Amanullah acceded to throne in 1919. Since then, the country has known many governments and several civil wars.
The historical rulers of Afghanistan belonged to the Abdali tribe of the ethnic Afghans, whose name was changed to Durrani upon the accession of Ahmad Shah. They belonged to the Saddozay segment of the Popalzay clan or to the Mohammadzay segment of the Barakzay clan of the ethnic Afghans. The Mohammadzay furnished the Saddozay kings frequently with top counselors, who served occasionally as regents, identified with the epithet Mohammadzay.
In the 20th century, eleven rulers were unseated through undemocratic means: 1919 (assassination), 1929 (abdication), 1929 (execution), 1933 (assassination), 1973 (deposition), 1978 (execution), 1979 (execution), 1979 (execution), 1987 (removal), 1992 (overthrow) and 1996 (overthrow).
The last period of stability in Afghanistan lay between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. However, in 1973, Zahir's brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud launched a bloodless coup. Daoud and his entire family was murdered in 1978 when the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan lauched a coup and took over the government.
Opposition against, and conflict within, the series of leftist governments that followed was immense, and with the government in danger of collapse, the Soviet Union intervened on December 24, 1979. Faced with mounting international pressure and losses of approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers as a result of mujahideen opposition trained by the United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments, the Soviets withdrew ten years later in 1989. For more details see Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.
Fighting subsequently continued among the various mujahidin factions. This eventually gave rise to a state of warlordism that eventually spawned the Taliban. The most serious of this fighting occurred in 1994, when 10,000 people were killed from factions fighting in the Kabul area. Backed by Pakistan and her strategic allies, the Taliban developed as a political/religious force and eventually seized power in 1996. The Taliban were able to capture 90% of the country, aside from Northern Alliance strongholds primarily in the northeast. The Taliban sought to impose an extreme interpretation of Islam. The Pakistan-Taliban alliance gave safe haven and assistance to Islamic terrorists (Especially Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda) and was the epicenter of Islamic terrorism.
The United States and allied military action in support of the opposition following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks forced the group's downfall. In late 2001, major leaders from the Afghan opposition groups and diaspora met in Bonn and agreed on a plan for the formulation of a new government structure that resulted in the inauguration of Hamid Karzai as Chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) on December 2001. After a nationwide Loya Jirga in 2002, Karzai was elected President.
In addition to occasionally violent political jockeying and ongoing military action to root out remaining al-Qaida and Taliban elements, the country suffers from enormous poverty, rampant warlordism, a crumbling infrastructure, and widespread land mines.
On March third and twenty-fifth, 2002, a series of earthquakes struck Afghanistan, with a loss of thousands of homes and over 1800 lives. Over 4000 more people were injured. The earthquakes occurred at Samangan Province (March 3) and Baghlan Province (March 25). The latter was the worse of the two, and incurred most of the casualties. International authorites assisted the Afghan government in dealing with the situation.
See also: Afghanistan timeline, Invasions of Afghanistan
Main article: Politics of Afghanistan
Currently, an interim government is in place, led by president Hamid Karzai, with many elements from the Northern Alliance, and a mix from other regional and ethnic groups formed from the transition government by the Loya jirga. Former monarch Mohammed Zahir Shah returned to the country, but was not reinstated as king and only exercises limited ceremonial powers.
Under the Bonn Agreement the Afghan Constitution Commission was established to consult with the public and formulate a draft constitution. Scheduled to release a draft on September 1, 2003, the commission has asked for a delay in order to undertake further consultations. The meeting of a constitutional loya jirga (grand council) was held in December 2003 when a new constution was adopted creating a presidential form of government.
Troops and intelligence agencies from the United States and a number of other countries are present, some to keep the peace, others assigned to hunt for remnants the Taliban and al Qaeda. A United Nations peacekeeping force called the International Security Assistance Force operates in Kabul, starting December 2001. NATO took control of this Force on August 11, 2003. Most of the country remains under the control of warlords.
On March 27, 2003, Afghan deputy defense minister and powerful warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum created an office for the North Zone of Afghanistan and appointed officials to it, defying interim president Hamid Karzai's orders that there be no zones in Afghanistan.
see also: List of leaders of Afghanistan
Main article: Provinces of Afghanistan
Afghanistan consists of 34 provinces, or velayat: