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After the September 11th attacks on America, many nations were drawn into the War on Terror. With this escalating conflict came the names of many countries that the American public knew little about.
Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats). Economic considerations have played second fiddle to political and military upheavals during two decades of war, including the nearly 10-year Soviet military occupation (which ended 15 February 1989). During that conflict one-third of the population fled the country, with Pakistan and Iran sheltering a more than 6 million refugees. In early 2000, two million Afghan refugees remained in Pakistan and about 1.4 million in Iran. Gross domestic product has fallen substantially over the past 20 years because of the loss of labor and capital and the disruption of trade and transport; severe drought added to the nation’s difficulties in 1998-2000. The majority of the population continues to suffer from insufficient food, clothing
, housing, and medical care. Inflation remains a serious problem throughout the country. International aid can deal with only a fraction of the humanitarian problem, let alone promote economic development. In 1999-2000, internal civil strife continued, hampering both domestic economic policies and international aid efforts.
Prior to 9/11, Americans knew Afghanistan simply as a country in the Middle East. In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans now associate Afghanistan with words like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Despite the recent press coverage on this land-locked nation, few understand the history of Afghanistan, including the rich cultural aspects, political climate, and society of this country.
Afghanistan’s culture is far removed from what we are accustomed to in western civilization. There is no freedom of religion in the country as Islam is the dominant way of thinking and has been for hundreds of years. Afghanistan is currently synonymous with war because of the division between the people within the
country. Another cultural aspect we
struggle to grapple with is the treatment of women in the country—the kind of treatment we condemn as a western society.
As the future of Afghanistan is being lived and written right now, a clear understanding of the country's history is imperative in understanding the new global circumstances.
It is for this reason that Meredith L. Runion has written this book, published by Geenwood Press.
Less than 1% of Afghanistan is forested. The forests thrive mainly in the mountains and include pine, cypress, oak, juniper, laurel, barberry, hazelnut, and wild almond. Pine trees are the most prized tree; some structures are built from this wood.
The author is a Program Manager in the Directorate of Science and Technology for the U.S. Federal Government and has been involved in several efforts regarding the Middle East. She is regarded as a specialist in the history of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, Land of the Pushtun, is a mountainous land-locked country in Central Asia with a history and culture that goes back over 5000 years. Throughout its long, splendid, and sometimes chaotic history, this area of the world has been known by various names. In the ancient times, its inhabitants called the land Aryana. And in the medieval era, it was called Khorasan. Modern life in Afghanistan is much different than life in the west. This report will illustrate some of the key differences and similarities to other parts of the world. This information was made possible by several sources listed in the endnotes.
The author has produced a volume that reflects her current research on Afghanistan. In addition to writing several articles on the subject, "The History of Afghanistan," is her first published book. Meredith is a native of the Washington D.C. area, and holds advanced degrees in Decision Science and Business.
The book is intended for students and general readers.
Having U.S. presence in Afghanistan has been an eye opener to the outside world to help with it’s improvement. Troops in Afghanistan have helped build schools which has exposed the younger generation Afghanis to technology, new ideas, and drifted them away from the corruption of Taliban forces. In September of 2011, The 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team helped with the building of eight schools in Kandahar.
It is also serves as an appropriate starting material for researchers trying to find concise yet all-inclusive text on the entire history of Afghanistan and the rulers that have governed it.
The United States, being a superpower which attacked Afghanistan and is now embroiled in the War Against Terror in this region, shares a special relationship with this country.
In1919, Amir Amanullah Khan declared a holy war against British Imperialism for Independence of Afghanistan. The treaty of Rawalpondi on August 8, 1919, Recognized Afghanistan's political independence. The Afghan-Russian treaty was signed on February 28, 1921 A treaty of friendship signed by Afghanistan and Soviet Union and completed the establishment of diplomatic relations. The first president of Afghanistan was Mohammed Daoud Khan who was in office between July 17, 1973 and April 27, 1978. On August 20, 1998 The United States of America assaulted Afghan territory Khost to target the terrorist centres with cruise missiles. Approximately, 80 missiles were launched into the Afghan territory. The main target of the attack was to destroy Osama Bin Laden's headquarters.
Yet, many Americans know very little about Afghanistan, its history and the people who occupy this region. Therefore the author has made special effort to keep the book simple, concise and easy to follow for the American readers.
Afghanistan; the land that has been at war for centuries. Our fight started there with the tragic attacks on the twin towers on September 11, 2001. Since then we have brought the fight to Al Qaeda’s doorstep and have been performing military operations through all of Afghanistan. This war is has been costly on our military forces and our economy but it is a necessary war none the less. If we were to leave Afghanistan now we will lose the progress that our troops have given their lives to help achieve.
Among the many other questions the writer addresses some are as given: How did Afghanistan get to be the way it is? What kind of political systems have evolved there? What kind of influence does it have in the region? What are the dominant political, religious and cultural forces that move its leaders? These and many other questions have been answered in this volume.
The dominant religion practiced in Afghanistan is Islam. Historically, the region that is now Afghanistan used to be predominantly Buddhist, but during the 7th century, Muslim influence spread far and wide. Since that time, despite many invasions from other countries and their pervading religious motives, the region has remained the centre of Islamic influence. Today, although the country is divided, all groups within the country follow some or other version of the Islamic belief system
. Any other religions are condemned and many people are killed for
choosing any other religion besides Islam.
The book under review is a nonfiction account of the history of Afghanistan. It provides an abridged history of Afghanistan, from the emergence of civilization to the United States overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001.
The president was the head of the state and was elected by a majority vote of the Loya Jirgah for a term of seven years. Any Muslim citizen of Afghanistan who is more than 40 years of age was able to be elected president. No person had been allowed to serve for more than two terms. The president exercised a wide range of executive powers. He or she ratified the resolutions of the Meli Shura, appointed the prime minister, and approved the appointment of the ministers, judges, and army officials. The president was the supreme commander of the armed forces and was able to proclaim a state of emergency or declare war, with the consent of the Loya Jirgah.
The history is almost entirely political and military in nature, recounting shifting dynasties and governments and successive invasions by empires and great powers.
Major points in the book describe how modern Afghanistan is a melting pot of a multitude of cultures, tribes, and political influences all under the guiding belief of Islam.
Ninety-nine percent of Afghans are Muslims. One common link among them is their religion, Islam. The major population consists of 20 ethnic groups which are then separated into several different tribes. Most ethnic groups have different languages and
different cultures which makes it really hard for Afghanistan to develop into a unified modern nation. This leads to the troubles they have had over the centuries. They have suffered foreign interference by Russia and Great Britain. A bitter struggle over power in the country tore Afghanistan. The purpose of this paper will reveal Afghanistan’s people their history and the
current events which contribute to the country’s conditions.
The author repeatedly stresses that due to the country's strategic location along the crucial trade routes between Central Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan has suffered repeated conquests throughout its tumultuous history.
Kabul has been an important city throughout the ages because of its amazing location at the center of these vital crossroads. In the 19th century, Kabul was captured twice by the British during the Anglo-Afghan wars. 6,000 feet above sea level, on a well-sheltered plateau, Kabul is the largest city in the country, with an estimated population of about two million. Because of the altitude, Kabul’s climate is similar to that of Denver, Colorado-invigorating with brilliant sunshine and thin, clean air. The summers are dry, with rain in spring and heavy snowfall in the winter.
In spite of this, Afghanistan has proven to be a resilient force in the face of long term conquests, as the United States is experiencing today.
It starts with an introduction to the country, focusing on its geography and people.
Afghanistan has had a history of dramatic unfortunate events that have affected Afghans’ quality of life. The country is very poor and has an unsettled government with little opportunity for the people. Nature has not been a friend to Afghanistan with earthquakes, droughts, and severe weather conditions. Afghanistan was not a country known to everyone. But now the entire world is watching as the country struggles to exist. The purpose of this paper was to reveal Afghanistan’s people and their history
, through my discussion of the past and current events in Afghanistan.
It discusses its location in the region, its physical features and agricultural potential. It also discusses its economy and the ethnic groups inhabiting the country.
It is interesting to note that the author has devoted a complete chapter to Afghanistan's prehistory.
Few Afghans are of a single ethnic descent. Over the centuries there has been a lot of intermarriage among the different groups in contact with each other in the same regions.
While libraries and bookstores are filled with a multitude of works on the early life of Mesopotamia and Persia, very little can be found about Afghanistan's prehistory. Further, most books provide only one or two paragraphs on the early civilization era of Afghanistan, usually after Alexander the Great conquered this region.
One of the first significant pre-Islam events was named "Alexander the Great invasion" in 328 BC. This was one of the many conquests of Alexander the Great. The first Muslim-Arab Conquests began in 652-664 AD. These people were likely the
ancestors of most ethnic afghans currently living in Afghanistan and the surrounding area.
By including a complete chapter on the country's prehistory the writer has made the book appealing to general public as well as students of history.
The next chapter discusses the early civilizations which flourished in this area.
From June to September Afghanistan is very hot and dry. In summer nights it can be very cold. Very little rain falls at lower altitudes, and the plains are extremely dry. Rainfall in the country averages about seven inches a year. The southwest is even more arid. Along the Iran-Afghanistan border, the wind commonly causes sandstorms. In the southwestern deserts, the temperature difference between day and night can be very extreme. In the summer, water freezes at night, despite noon temperatures of up to 120 F. Only in areas like Kabul, which are at higher altitudes and are sheltered, is the climate relatively pleasant. Kabul’s yearly temperature ranges between 23 F and 77 F.
Brief yet informative material has been presented about the Aryan Civilization, the Medes Empire, the arrival of Alexander the Great in the region and the Greco-Bactrian rule in Afghanistan.
Most books on the subject ignore the intermediate period between the early civilizations and the arrival of Islam in Afghanistan.
Together with Buddhism and Christianity, Islam is one of the three major religions of the world. Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca in the seventh century. Afghanistan has been an Islamic state since 1992 when the various mujahedin groups succeeded in overthrowing the Soviet-backed President Rabbani. Over 90% of the population is Muslim. The two most important languages are Pushtu
, and Dari, these are the two official languages of Afghanistan.
However, the writer has discussed the Greek-Hellenistic culture prevailing in the area till the conquests led by Muslim invaders. The Macedonian Empire, the division under Seleucid and Mauryan Rule, the Greco-Bactrian and Parthian eras, The Kushan Empire and the Sassanid Dynasty have been dealt with by the author in this chapter before moving on to the advent of Muslim conquerors.
Music and dance, although banned under Taliban rule, was, and is an essential part of Afghani tradition. Music would only be played at joyous occasions such as weddings, but not at funerals. Most women play a drum-like instrument named the daireh. While men play the armonia an instrument resembling the lute. The national dance of Afghanistan is called the Atan, and is usually performed at receptions.
Conspicuous, however, is the author's lack of attention to the rule of Islamic Empires in Afghanistan. The Islamic Empires of this region were some of the most powerful and influential ones during the period extending from 10th century A.D., and played a significant role in shaping the history of Central Asia, Persia and India. The indisposition of the author to handle this period of history in greater detail will come as a surprise to researchers and historians.
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The following chapter discusses the Mongolian Invasion, the Timurid Empire and Safavid Rule leading up to the creation of the first Afghan state under Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1747.
A complete chapter has been written by the author detailing the Anglo-Afghan Wars from 1839 to 1919. Once again the author very concisely narrates the history of Afghanistan during this period ensuring that no important event is left out.
Afghanistan’s mountain ranges are an extension of the Himalayan Mountains and cover about two-thirds of the country; this forms the backbone of Afghanistan’s central mountains. The Kuh-e-Baba Mountains, which rise to almost 17,000 feet, are not the highest peaks of Afghanistan. The mountains with the highest elevation are found near the northeastern border with Pakistan and rise to 24,557 feet. In the twentieth century alone, more than a dozen earthquakes have occurred in the area around Kabul. The Northeastern part of the highlands is the most active. Within the past few months a new earthquake has again damaged this area.
Events leading up to the Soviet Invasion, Retreat of Soviet forces and the Afghan Civil War have been described by the author in a succinct manner. Since the history of Afghanistan during this period has been covered by a significant number of books, and that too in great detail, it is relieving to note that the writer has not presented extensive material reproducing the same events in the book.
Women in Afghanistan are required to observe the purdah. They must cover themselves so as not to be seen by any men other than those immediately related to them. Traditional Afghan women wear the chadri, a voluminous garment with only a slit or net for the eyes, over their normal clothes whenever they go outdoors. Since the Taliban rule girls had not been allowed to attend school or work outside the home.
Instead the author sticks to presenting the events briefly.
The next chapter in the book discusses the rise of fundamentalism in Afghan society. This covers the role of the 'Mujahideen', the rise of the 'Taliban', their war with the Northern Alliance and finally the advent of Osama bin Laden on the global scene.
Although only a little over a tenth of Afghanistan’s land is arable, 70% of the population lives off the land. A large percent of the rest of the population rears sheep and goats. Farmers depend on rivers for irrigation. Wheat is Afghanistan’s chief crop. Their most profitable crop may well be opium from the poppies grown in the mountains near the northwest frontier provinces of Pakistan. Afghanistan produced 2,637 tons of opium in 1991.
This chapter will be of particular interest to Western readers, especially those in the United States who are not clear about the origin of the Taliban. Afghanistan is a nation about which Western readers knew very little about till the events of 2001.
The southwestern region consists primarily of desert and semi desert. The largest deserts here are the Registan, Dasht-i-Margo, and Dasht-i-Khash. These barren areas cover over 40,000 square miles, and lie between 1,500 and 2,000 feet about sea level. The entire region is bisected by the Helmand River, which flows from the Hindu Kush to Lake Helmand.
Overall, Runion gives an insightful overview of such a country.
In general, the book lays greater stress on the historical events occurring in the past 30 years. According to Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, both professors at Indiana University and foreword-writers for the book, 'the past 30 years have been witness to a great deal of historical change, and it is to this change that this book is primarily addressed'.
But that all changed on September 27, 1996, when the ruling members of the Afghan Government were displaced by members of the extremist Islamic Taliban movement. After the beginning of the War Against Terrorism, now being waged in Afghanistan, a new leader was placed as the temporary head of the interim government. It is too soon to tell whether this leader will be able to pull the factions together and unify the country.
The material in the book has been presented in an orderly manner, with the author focusing on the chronological order of the historical events. The language used is simple and helpful for students wishing to acquire knowledge about the subject matter in a short time duration.
Afghanistan's Pushtun culture is a culture of vigor and mystery. Not much is known about it. But what is known is that the people that live there may pray differently, cook differently, or even live in different kinds of houses, but we are really aren't that different.
However it must be noted that the book presents a very brief overview of the history of Afghanistan, with the overly plain language at times becoming simple even for high school students.
As the reader moves towards the more modern history of Afghanistan, it becomes perfectly clear that this book was written for Americans who wanted to know more about Afghanistan after 2001.
The national sport of Afghan, Buzkashi, involves a headless carcass of a goat being put into a ring and is being sought after by men on horseback. The object of the game is to bring the carcass back to the player's own side. The winner of the match gets to keep the goat as food. This is a very difficult game and is much too challenging for the younger men. Other sports include tent pegging, Topay danda, a game that is similar to stickball, and kitefighting, a youth's game. The object of kitefighting is to break the opponent's string by gluing shards of broken glass to the player's kite string and flying it into the opponent's kite string.
If that is the only purpose of the readers, this book will prove fine. But if the readers are history students or researchers, they will find vast other eras of history getting ignored.
The book contains additional chapters that add useful detail to the historical narrative. One chapter is a thorough chronology of important historical events, making it easy for readers to follow the flow of Afghanistan's history.
One major Muslim event is Ramadan. It is a fast lasting one month, followed by a feast to commemorate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to God. Another holiday is Noruz celebrating the New Year on March 21. Other holidays include: Loss of the Muslim Nation on April 28, Remembrance Day for Martyrs and Disabled on May 4, Independence Day on August 19 and Pashtoonistan Day on August 30 or 31. On the Muslim calendar there are five feasts. All of the dates of the feasts have something in common with the prophet Muhammad.
Another chapter features biographical sketches of the nation's most important figures who have contributed to the historical development of the Afghan nation. The book also contains a comprehensive bibliography, so that those readers interested in the subject matter can find more about the nation and its history.
We can only speculate whether or not Afghanistan’s cultural system has a lot to do with their current state as a nation. Nobody can deny that the country is broken and in deep need of real help. However, this help must come in the form of a changed way of thinking if they are to pull themselves out of the wretched state they are currently in.
Each chapter is followed by detailed notes explaining the contents of the chapter, making extensive references to works of other writers and historians on Afghanistan. Included alongside these items is a glossary of frequently used terms, and a guide to further readings.
Afghanistan is a country in southwestern Asia. Afghanistan consists of mountains, scorching deserts, fertile valleys, and rolling plains. The country is a little smaller than Texas. It is landlocked, having no borders near water. The surrounding countries are Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran. Afghanistan is one of the world’s least developed countries in the world. Nomads make up a sixth of the population along with three-fourths of Afghanistan workers who farm the land. Kabul is the largest city and also the capital of Afghanistan.
The author apparently did a great deal of research and references multiple sources to provide an unbiased look into Afghanistan.
It was noted that the chronology of this book moves in a haphazard fashion, and the areas the author chooses to focus on are sometimes puzzling.
In Hindu Kush, animals are typical of the nearby Himalayas. They include the snow cock, ibex, brown bear, snow leopard, piping hare, and sometimes even the Siberian tiger. The northern plains have the fauna of the steppes. In the western desert roam gazelle, coursers, flamingos, and swallow plovers. Camels are native to the region, mostly found in the mountains.
Even though Afghanistan was a neutral nation during WWI and WWII, those wars are discussed in a paragraph.
The author's style of narrating the events which have not yet occurred in a specific section becomes irritating at times.
The villages in Afghanistan consist of houses built of bricks and plastered with a mixture of mud and straw which are topped off by flat roofs. Most houses have an enclosed compound that shelters the livestock and holds sheds for storage. Found here is the cooking area and the living area where the family works and plays
For example, the author writes:
"That king ruled until the war was over in 1967"
Then the next section will begin:
"The war of regicidal independence began in 1960"
This is fairly common, and has the readers sometimes struggling to put their mindset back into chronological order.
Women in Afghanistan are treated as property. Their sole purpose is to give men children and tend to household needs. Women are often abused if they cannot produce a son for their husbands and divorce is not uncommon in such situations. As a result, many mothers are left stranded without any money or means to work—and are left caring for their daughters because they have little to no rights as women.
The absence of maps was greatly felt, which could have assisted in explaining the historical contents of the book. Similarly, the book contained no illustrations or images, making it a tiresome and unamusing read at times. Inclusion of maps and illustrations could have added to the appeal and quality of the book
Overall, the book makes a satisfactory attempt to explain the major historical events of Afghanistan very briefly.
In 1504 - 1525 AD, Babur invaded Afghanistan and established the capital in Kabul.
Some historical details have been ignored by the author. For an introductory history to Afghanistan, this serves its purpose, but it will probably pique rather than satiate the readers' search for knowledge, which may have been the author's point all along.
Afghanistan can be divided into three regions-the northern plains, the central mountains, and the southern plateau. The northern plains have some of the most fertile land in Afghanistan, the country’s major agricultural area. However, because rainfall is scarce, only river valleys and regions where water is available can be cultivated.
The book has about 150 pages, so if the readers want an in depth material this probably isn't recommended. However, this is a great starting material for those wanting to gain more understanding on the country and the current focus on modern events and conflicts
It is recommended for general public wishing to acquire elementary knowledge and background information about the history of Afghanistan in a concise manner.
The Pushtun are a nomadic people that primarily congregate in Afghanistan, although they are gradually being incorporated into Afghanistan's larger cities. The exact population of the Pushtun is unknown because of mountain villages and such, however, it is estimated to be around seven to nine million.
Students of history and researchers looking for in-depth material on the subject however will be disappointed.
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