A fascinating chronicle of a nation's turbulent history.
Reaching back to earliest times, Martin Ewans examines the historical evolution of one of today's most dangerous breeding grounds of global terrorism. After a succession of early dynasties and the emergence of an Afghan empire during the eighteenth century, the nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a fierce power struggle between Russia and Britain for supremacy in Afghanistan that was ended by the nation's proclamation of independence in 1919. A communist coup in the late 1970s overthrew the established regime and led to the invasion of Soviet troops in 1979. Roughly a decade later, the Soviet Union withdrew, condemning Afghanistan to a civil war that tore apart the nation's last remnants of religious, ethnic, and political unity. It was into this climate that the Taliban was born.
Today, war-torn and economically destitute, Afghanistan faces unique challenges as it looks toward an uncertain future. Martin Ewans carefully weighs the lessons of history to provide a frank look at Afghanistan's prospects and the international resonances of the nation's immense task of total political and economic reconstruction.
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For a country as closed and remote as Afghanistan, a great deal of archaeological research has been carried out over the years, although relatively little of it has covered the country's prehistory. However enough has been found to show that the region was widely inhabited during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras. Evidence also exists of the practice of agriculture and pastoralism some 10,000 years ago. By the sixth millennium BC, lapis lazuli from Badakhshan was being exported to India, while excavations in Sistan and Afghan Turkestan have revealed evidence of a culture allied to that of the Indus civilisation of that time. By the second millennium, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan was in use in the Aegean area, where it has been found in one of the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, while tin, also possibly from Afghanistan, was being carried in a ship which was wrecked at Uluburun, off the Turkish coast, in 1336 BC. From very early times, therefore, the region's commercial links stretched both to the east and to the west.
As is clear from the diversity of the population, as well as from the archaeological and historical evidence, Afghanistan has also over its long history been a 'highway of conquest' between west, central and southern Asia. The country has been incorporated into a series of empires, and successions of migrations and invasions have passed into and through it. One of the main migrations was that of the Indo-Aryan peoples, who spent some time on the Iranian Plateau and in Bactria, before going on to conquer and displace the pre-Aryanpeoples of South Asia. It was not until the sixth century BC, however, that the region began to appear in recorded history, as the Achaemenid monarch, Cyrus the Great, extended his empire as far east as the River Indus. His successor, Darius the Great, created various satrapies in the area, among them Aria (Herat), Drangiana (Sistan), Bactria (Afghan Turkestan), Margiana (Merv), Chorasmia (Khiva), Sogdiana (Transoxania), Arachosia (Ghazni and Kandahar) and Gandhara (the Peshawar valley). The Achaemenids appear to have embraced Zoroastrianism, and tradition has it, somewhat uncertainly, that the renowned sage Zoroaster was born and lived in Bactria, and that he died in Bactra (Balkh) around 522 BC. The establishment of the eastern Achaemenid empire involved hard fighting and Persian rule was only maintained with difficulty. Greek colonists were brought in to help consolidate it, but by the fourth century BC, the satrapies to the south and east of the Hindu Kush seem to have regained their independence.
During the latter half of the fourth century, Achaemenid rule gave way to Greek, as Alexander of Macedon, having defeated Darius III in 331 BC at the Battle of Gaugamela, embarked on his epic march to the east. He subdued Persia, and then in 330 entered Afghanistan. As he advanced, he founded cities to protect his conquests, starting with Alexandria Ariana near what is now Herat. He then turned south to the Sistan and eastwards to the Kandahar area, where he founded Alexandria Arachosia. By the spring of 329 BC he had founded yet another city, Alexandria-ad-Caucasum, in the Kohistan valley north of Kabul. He then struck up the Panjshir Valley and north over the Hindu Kush, where his troops suffered severely from frostbite and snow blindness. He seized Bactria and crossed the Amu Darya, where the unfortunate satrap, Bassus, was delivered to him, tortured and executed. He then went on to take Marcanda (Samarkand), and built his remotest city, Alexandria-Eschate, 'Alexandria-at-the-End-of-the-World', on the Sri Darya. Hard fighting followed with the local nomadic tribes until the summer of 327 BC, when, after founding more cities, he retired over the mountains. Before doing so he married a Bactrian princess, Roxane, probably as a dynastic expedient and not, as the romantically inclined would have it, a love match.
Alexander then marched down to India, sending the bulk of his forces and equipment along the Kabul River, while he himself marched with a smaller force up the Kunar Valley and eastwards into Bajaur and Swat. The combined army then crossed the Indus and in 326 BC defeated the local king, Poros, at the battle of Jhelum. By that time, however, his troops had had enough of the unknown and, when he proposed going on beyond the Beas, they mutinied and compelled him to retreat. He built a fleet and sailed down the Indus, and then withdrew partly by sea and partly through the Makran, where his troops suffered severely from shortages of food and water. He died in 323, soon after arriving back in Babylon.
The empire that Alexander established quickly broke up and, in the Punjab, gave way to the Mauryan dynasty under Chandragupta. At the end of the fourth century, Alexander's successor in the East, Seleucus Nikator, suffered a severe defeat at the hands of Chandragupta and was forced to cede to him most of the land to the south of the Hindu Kush. However friendly relations developed between the two kingdoms, a treaty was negotiated and envoys were exchanged. From the middle of the third century BC, under the great Mauryan king, Asoka, Buddhism began to flourish in both India and Afghanistan. Edicts of Asoka, carved on pillars or rocks, have been found in both countries, and bear witness to the strength of his Buddhist convictions. Bactria, however, remained a Seleucid satrapy and was settled by further Greek colonists, and then, also in the middle of the third century, became an independent Graeco-Bactrian kingdom. Over many years, from the 1920s onwards, French archaeologists searched for a Graeco-Bactrian city in northern Afghanistan. In 1963 they eventually found one, at Ai Khanum in Taloqan Province, at the confluence of the Kokcha River and the upper reaches of the Amu Darya. Excavations there revealed the remains of a wealthy and sophisticated Hellenistic city, with a citadel, palace, temples and gymnasium. It appears to have been...Afghanistan. Copyright © by Martin Ewans. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great book for those who are getting started on better understanding the history of Afghanistan. The history, culture, and personality of the Afghanis make it easy to understand why we're in such a challenging situation today.