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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kabul considers death penalty for Insult to Islam.


History never dies. It is reborn every minute of every day.

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“Every priest, Mullah and chief of every tribe and village considered himself an independent king and for about 200 years past, the freedom and independence of many of these priests was never broken by their sovereign...The tyranny and cruelty of these men were unbearable.”
-Shah Abdur Rahman, King of Afghanistan, in his autobiography, 'The Life of Abdur Rahman.'

TAG: Afghanistan's struggle with modernization continues after more than a century as elements in the government insist on the strictest possible interpretation of Sharia Law


*990-1030- the Afghan conqueror, Mahmoud of Ghazni decrees forced mass conversions to Islam in India and Afghanistan.

*1880-1901- Shah Abdur Rahman establishes the divine right of kings, a centralizing notion not usual in Afghanistan where Mullahs wield absolute religious authority locally. Rahman centralizes the administration of religion, fashions a state sharia law and makes himself protector of Islam from foreigners .
*1919-1929- King Amanallah passes a news constitution which attempts to define the relationship between religion and state. The resulting compromise displeases both secularists and religious conservatives.
*1978- the Marxist Kalq government replaces the Afghan flag, with its green stripe for Islam, with a red Communist fag. Communist style mass demonstrations are introduced. The invocation of Allah is dropped from all official statements.

*Traditionalist, conservative Muslims in Afghanistan were never under threat until Afghanistan's first strong centralizing, modernizing monarch, Shah Abdur Rahman ruled from 1880 to 1901. He had some success in breaking the power of the Mullahs. In the countryside, the Mullahs had decreed religious practice locally, before Rahman brought religion under state control.
*After succeeding to the throne in 1901, King Habibullah continued Rahman's policies.
*His successor, King Amanullah's attempts at further secularization met with such powerful resistance that he was overthrown in 1928 during which Kabul endured nine months of religious tyranny.
*Amanullah's successor Nadir Shah (1929-1933), could only keep the country united by rolling back more religious reforms and appeasing the clergy.
*In 1964, King Zahir Shah brought in a constitution enshrining secular laws within an Islamic context.
*In 1973, an officer, Mohammed Daoud, overthrew the monarchy, declared Afghanistan a secular republic and cracked down hard on Islamic groups and religious leaders. The pro-communist Kalq party which overthrew Daoud, attempt hardline Marxism while President Babrak Karmal attempted a pro-Soviet government that tolerated Islam. Fearing instability, the Soviets invaded to support Kermal against hardline

IN A NUTSHELL: 120 years of modern Afghan history have shown that anyone who wants to rule a united Afghanistan must walk a narrow line between appeasing conservative religious leaders and exerting complete state control over religious affairs. In other words, in order to rule, the state must be seen to be the protector and upholder of Sharia law, even as it attempts, otherwise, to modernize the country.

THEN AND NOW: From 1933 to 1973, King Zahir Shah ruled with comparative stability, establishing, in 1964, a constitution which enshrined secular law within a context of Islam. In 2008, the Karzai regime must enforce a strict interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law in order to defuse opposition from religious conservatives in the countryside who could easily go over to the Taliban.


DISTANT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. In 1709, when the Persian Safavid dynasty controlled Afghanistan, the Pashtun chieftain, Mirwais Kahn Hotak, rallied his Ghilzai tribe around Kandahar (the Pashtuns are a people, defined by the Pashto language; they are divided into tribes), drove out the Persians and succeeded as ruler of Kandahar. He died in 1715. In 1720-22, Mirwais' son, Mahmud Hotak turned the tables and invaded Persia, overthrowing the Persian Safavids under Shah Hussein. Hotak made himself Shah at Isfahan before dying insane in 1724. By 1729, Nadir Shah of Persia had expelled all the Pashtun Hotaki Afghans.
It was Nadir Shah who turned the table this time, invading Afghanistan and northern India in 1738, his empire lasting only untilhis assassination in 1747. Afghan retribution against Persia was to arrive in the form of the Durrani, the great Pashtun clan that is still powerful in Afghanistan. In 1747 a Pashtun, Ahmad Shah (of the Saddozai family of the Abdali clan) happened to be commander of the Persian Shah, Nadir's body guard. He participated in the Shah's assassination, took the name "Durrani", meaning 'Pearl of the Age' and established the Pashtun Durrani dynasty of Afghanistan and united the tribes of southern Afghanistan around their common link: the Pashtun language. He then invaded the Gangetic Plain of India, conquering and weakening the last Moghul emperor Aurangzeb. Under the Duranni, the modern Afghan nation began to take shape. Ahmad Shah's empire extended from near the Caspian Sea to India and entailed the final defeat of the Mahrattas of India at Panipat in 1761.
After Ahmad Shah's death in 1777, his son, Timur Shah, moved the Durrani capital from Kandahar to Kabul. But the Durrani empire weakened under Timur and disintegrated under the rule of his son, Zaman. It was a decaying Durrani dynasty that the British confronted in their attempts to control Afghanistan as a buffer state against Russia in the 19th century.
Under a Pashtun chieftain of the Barakzai clan , Dost Mohammed, (1826-63), the heart of the Afghan state was revived and something resembling a modern Afghanistan developed. In the mid century, Afghanistan was drawn into 'the Great Game' as Russia and Britain vied for control of the region, Britain determined to stem any Russian encroachment on her possessions in India and South Asia. Though the Pashtun Shahs were weak, the tribes were sufficiently organized to end British occupation twice in the nineteenth century.
Between 1880 and 1901, Shah Abdur Rahman, with tacit British support, became the first ruler to bind the country in something resembling a modern, centralized state. His rule was stern but moderate and effective. The first Afghan sovereign to establish the the divine right of kings, he risked the wrath of the local Mullahs who normally held all religious authority. Rahman broke their power by taking over the Waqfs or religious trusts, effectively making the Mullahs into religious bureaucrats. He went on to centralize the administration of religion, fashion a state sharia law and make himself protector of Islam from foreigners .
Rahman's son, King Habibullah reigned from 1901 to 1919. His adviser, Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, was also tutor to his children, Inyatullah and Amanullah. An influential modernizer and nationalist, Tarzi was influenced by the secularizing example of the young Turks and of the Japanese talent for modernization while keeping traditional social and religious structures in place. Habibullah declared his neutrality in World War One but with Russian influence declining after the revolution of 1917, nationalist and religious leaders, particularly in Eastern Afghanistan, were angry that he failed to declare complete independence from Britain. After Habibullah's assassination in 1919, he was succeeded by his son, Amanullah.
By World War I, Britain had little control in Afghanistan but it did have its garrisons along the Durand Line, protecting British India. The Afghans took advantage of Britain's distraction by the war in Europe to rally the Pashtun tribes which formed their own 'discrete' nation on both sides of the border. In response, in 1919, the British launched another invasion of Afghanistan. King Amanullah, as a Pashtun, used Pashtun tribesmen from both sides of the Afghan-Indian border (the Durand line which is the current Afghan-Pakistan border) to fight the British to a standstill in what became known as the Afghan War of Independence. In that same year, the British recognized an independent Afghanistan by the Treaty of Kabul.
Amanullah attempted to put the country on the road to modernization. He forged a constitution which attempted to define the relationship between religion and state, alienating secularists and religious conservatives alike. His educational and religious reforms, meanwhile, threatened to weaken the local Mullahs and he jailed the Hazrat Shabib of Shor Bazaar for organizing a petition opposing the reforms. When the Chief Qazi of Kabul protested Amanullah's reforms, he was charged with treason and executed. The reaction gathered momentum. In 1928 a Tajik bandit and religious conservative, the Bachi i Saqao organized an attack on Kabul. Cowed, Amanullah released the Harzat Shabib of Shor Bazaar and rescinded most of his secularizing reforms. He was soon deposed and for nine months the Bachi ruled Kabul in a religious tyranny. In 1929 Amanullah's cousin, Nadir Shah succeeded in ousting the Bachi and was made king.
Nadir Shah put down tribal rebellions against further modernizing reforms. At the same time, he attempted to appease religious traditionalists by rolling back some of Amanullah's reforms and giving the Bachi authority to enforce Sharia law through the courts. Altogether, Nadir Shah managed to hold Afghanistan's quarrelsome tribes in national unity- maintaining the state in its more or less historical condition: a loose tribal confederation dominated by Pashtuns. Tribal conflicts, however, resulted in Nadir Shah's assassination in 1933.
Nadir Shah's son, Zahir Shah, used his country’s geopolitical position to play off the United States and the Soviet Union against one another, extracting support from both and embarking on further, gradual modernization. He is responsible for bringing Afghanistan into the 20th century, the very process which divides Afghanistan today. He gave the country its first constitution in 1964 and its first elections in 1965. The move to modern, secular republicanism was accelerated with his overthrow in 1973 by one of his ministers, Mohammed Daoud who declared himself president. Daoud accelerated the march toward secularization, outraging the Mullahs by ordering the women of the royal family to appear unveiled at the yearly Jeshn, the ceremony marking Afhganistan's independence. He cracked down on Islamic groups, jailing Mohammed Niasi, the Ikwan i Musulamin of the Muslim Brotherhood and 200 of his followers. One of them, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar fled to Pakistan where he set up an opposition group. (He would later work in alliance with the Raliban)
It was a Marxist movement that overthrew and assassinated Daoud in 1978. The new Marxist government gave lip service to Islam. In 1978 the Marxist Kalq government replaced the Afghan flag, with its green stripe for Islam, with a red Communist fag and introduced Communist style mass demonstrations. The invocation of Allah was dropped from all official statements. Muslim clergy were imprisoned and religious leaders were persecuted in the countryside. The Soviet-backed leader, Babrak Karmal restored the old Afghan flag, claimed to guarantee freedom of religion and set up 'Islamic institutions' causing a backlash of Marxist protest from the Kalq.

637-642- Muslim Arabs defeat the Persian Sassinids who are by then exhausted by internal division.

-650- Mulsim Arabs occupy Herat and Balkh.
-990-1030- the Afghan conqueror, Mahmoud of Ghazni encourages mass conversions to Islam in India and Afghanistan.
-15th century- under Talmerlane's son Shah Rukh, Herat becomes the center of the Islamic cultural and artistic "Timurid" renaissance.
-1880-1901- Abdur Rahman establishes the divine right of kings, a centralizing notion not usual in Afghanistan where local Mullahs are normally the religious authority. This entails breaking the power of the Mullahs whom Rahman mostly disdains. He does this by taking over the Waqfs or religious trusts, effectively making the mullahs into religious bureaucrats. Rahman centralizes the administration of religion, fashions a state sharia law and makes himself protector of Islam from foreign influence.
-1896- Rahman conquers Nuristan and names himself "Light of the Nation and Religion."
-1901-1919 Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, an adviser on the court of King Habibullah and tutor to his children, Inyatullah and Amanullah. An influential modernizer and nationalist, Tarzi is impressed by the example of the young Turks. Pointing to Japan, he advocates modernization while keeping traditional social and religious structures in place.
-1916- Habibullah declares his neutrality in World War One. With the revolution of 1917 and Russia's withdrawal of influence, nationalist, religious and tribal leaders , particularly in the east, on the Indian border, consider Habibullah's neutrality to have wasted an opportunity to make Afghanistan fully independent from the British.
-1919-1928- King Amanallah passes a new constitution which attempts to define the relationship between religion and state. The resulting compromise displeases both secularists and religious conservatives. Amanullah's educational and religious reforms threaten to weaken the local Mullahs. The Hazrat Shabib of Shor Bazaar is jailed for organizing a petition opposing the reforms. The Chief Qazi of Kabul protests Amanullah's reform. The Qazi is charged with treason and executed.
-1928- A Tajik bandit and religious conservative, the Bachi i Saqao attacks Kabul. King Amanullah releases the Harzat Shabib of Shor Bazaar and rescinds most of his secularizing reforms. The Bachi overthrows Amanullah and for 9 months rules Kabul as a religious tyranny.
-1929-1933 Amanullah's cousin, Nadir Shah, ousts Bachi and is made king. Nadir Shah puts down rebellions against modernizing reforms, among the Shinwaris and Ghilzai and in the Kohistan region. He decides to appease religious traditionalists by rolling some of Amanullah's reforms and confirming the Bacha's authority to enforce Sharia law through the courts.
-1933-1973- King Zahir Shah.
-1964- Oct 1- Zahir Shah signs in a new constitution enshrining secular law within an Islamic context.
-1973-1978- President Mohammed Daoud
-1978- Daoud outrages the Mullahs by ordering the women of the royal family to appear unveiled at the yearly Jeshn, the ceremony marking Afghanistan's independence under King Amanullah. Daoud cracks down on Islamic groups, jailing Mohammed Niasi, the Ikwan i Musulamin of the Muslm Brotherhood and 200 of his followers. One of them, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar flees to Pakistan where he sets up an opposition group.
-1978 -after the assassination of Daoud, the Marxist Kalq government replaces the Afghan flag, with its green stripe for Islam, with a red Communist fag. Communist style mass demonstrations are introduced. The invocation of Allah is dropped from all official statements. The Taraki Kalq government imprisons clergy among others. In the countryside, religious leaders are persecuted.
-President Babrak Karmal restores the old Afghan flag, claims to guarantee freedom of religion and sets up 'Islamic institutions' . The Kalq protests.
-1979- the Soviet Union invades to prop up Karmal.
-1980- Afghan religious groups in exile in Peshawar, divided into two broad streams: the radical "Islamists" and the nationalist "Traditionalists" who would be happy with the return of the monarchy. The Islamists regard a monarchy as un-Islamic. Among the Peshawar Islamist groups are Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-Islami; Yunnis Khalis' breakway Hizb-i-Islami and Rabbani's more moderate Jamiat-i-Islami. Ahmed Massoud was from Jamiat. And the Ittihad- iIslami Bara-i-Izadi Afghanistan of Al Rasul Sayyef.
-1980s- the Sunni Deobandi movement (which arose in India at the turn of the century to define a pure Islam against Shiism and British colonialism) enters southern Afghanistan.
-2001- March- the Taliban destroy the great Buddah sculotures of Bamian. Subsequently, Taliban ministers systematically destroy 3,000 non-Muslim artifacts in the Kabul Museum.

RECENT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. In 1978, the Marxist president, Babrak Kemal found himself caught in a political feud with anti-Muslim Marxist radicals. He asked for Soviet intervention. The Soviet Union, fearing that Kemal's opponents could cause a severe Islamic reaction, invaded and occupied Afghanistan. In 1980, seven Afghan religious groups gathered in Peshawar, divided into two broad streams: the radical "Islamists" and the nationalist "Traditionalists". The traditionalists would be happy with the return of the monarchy while the Islamists who wanted a total Islamic state, regarded a monarchy as un-Islamic. Meanwhile in Afghanistan, Afghan Muslims formed the Mujehadeen nationalist, revolutionary movement to expel the Soviet Union, which they succeeded in doing in 1989. The Mujehadeen were a loose alliance mainly between ethnic Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbek warlords. With Pashtuns cleaving to a sense of their historic right to rule Afghanistgan, and all the warlords vying anyway for personal power, a bloody civil war among he Mujehadeen factions ended with Pakistan’s decision to impose stability by helping to create the Taliban. Throughout the 1980s, the Sunni Deobandi movement (which had arisen in India at the turn of the century to define a pure Islam against Shiism and British colonialism) entered southern Afghanistan. The Taliban , educated in the Deobandi tradition, emerged victorious in the civil war, ruled Afghanistan and hosted the Islamist terrorist group, Al Qaeda. Sharia law was ruthlessly enforced throughout the country. In March of 2001, the Taliban destroyed the great Buddah sculptures of Bamian for being non-Islamic. Subsequently, Taliban ministers systematically destroyed 3,000 non-Muslim artifacts in the Kabul Museum.

After 9/11, the US and its western alllies invaded Afghanistan with the help of Afghan Uzbek and Tajik tribesmen. The first elected government was headed by Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, but the important posts were handed out to Uzbek and Tajik warlords as rewards, leaving the Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group as well as Afghanistan historic rulers, with only a small share of the power. The Taliban began a gradual come-back in 2005, expanding its numbers through recruitment in the Pashtun region which straddles the border between Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The Taliban appealed heavily to Afghan rural traditionalism, to the local power of the Mullahs and the perceived threat of westernization. Allied troops returned at the request of the United Nations and the Afghan government, US, British and Canadian troops engaging the returning Taliban in the south. President Karzai has begun, tentatively, to negotiate with the Taliban, offering them government positions. Meanwhile, Karzai has tried to steer Afghan policy on a narrow road between democracy and human rights on the one hand, and respect of Afghan cultural and religious traditions on the other.

REMOTE BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. One of the earliest records of a ‘national movement’ is Pashtun resistance to Alexander the Great, whose armies occupied the area in 330 BC. His Seleucid successors barely held onto the region. By the 3rd century BC, the Greek colony of Bactria, in the Oxus region had seceded to form a kingdom which included northern Afghanistan. The Bactrians were succeeded, again from the north, by the Central Asian Kushans who, responding to pressures from China, pushed downward into the Afghan region and formed an empire extending southward into northern India. This southeastern movement from Central Asia, down through Afghanistan to India would be a two-way route of invasions, including Pashtun national invasions, for centuries to come. Afghanistan's place as a link between India and Central Asia would result in its gradual empowerment. As the Kushans declined in the fifth century AD, the Sassinid Persians managed to rule Afghanistan.
With the weakening of the Sassinids by internal dissension, the occupation of the area by Islam in the late 7th century was, perhaps, the most successful of all attempts to control the region. Despite occupation by Mongols in the middle ages, the area remained Muslim. Around 1020, Mahmoud of Ghazni, a Turkic Afghan warlord working for the Abassids of Baghdad, formed his own South-Asian empire whose influence stretched from the Tigirs to the Indus. He brought about forced, mass conversions to Islam in Afghanistan and in northern India. The Samarkand warlord Tamerlane conquered much of Afghanistan around 1400 . Though his empire fell apart quickly after his death, his son Shah Rukh brought about the 'Timurid' Islamic cultural renaissance in Herat. In the 16th century, Babur, again from Samarkand, set up his own empire in Afghanistan. This became the great Moghul Empire which included northern India.
With the gradual disintegration if the Moghul empire, the first thing resembling an Afghan ‘nation’ rose in the 18th century with the growth of a Pashtun nationalist sensibility around Kandahar and directed against Persian rule. The result was the Afghan, Pashtun Durrani empire which extended, like that of the Moghuls, into India.
LOCATION OF NOTE: KANDAHAR, traditional capital of the Pashtun kings of Afghanistan. A settlement was present at Kandahar before Alexander the Great founded a city there in the 4th century BC.. Straddling the main trade and military route between THE Indus and the Iranian Plateau, the city was fought over repeatedly by India and Persia. It was taken and converted by Muslim Arabs in the seventh century after which it fell under the rule of the Abassid Caliphate . Kandahar was then ruled by the Turkish warlord, Mahmud of Gazhni in 1010 and the Ghaznivids who succeeded him. Kandahar fell to the Mongols and was pillaged in the 13th century. It then became a major centre for clients of the Mongols, the Karts, until the city fell to Tamerlane in 1383. A century later, Kandahar was taken by Babur, founder of the Moghul empire. In 1545, the city was made Moghul military base and economic centre. Kandahar emerged in the modern age in 1704 when the Safavid Persians sent a military governor there to settle a feud between two Pashtun tribes, the Ghilzai and the Abdali. Five years later, the man who was effectively the founder of an Afghan state, Mirwais Hotaki rallied the Ghlzai against the Persian Safavids, killed the Persian governor and ruled Kandahar which was soonto be the nucleus of an Afghan state. Mahmud Hotak, son of Mirwais organized a tribal army at Kandahar, invaded Persia and seized the throne at Isfahan. After the death of Mahmud Hotak, a new king of Persia, Nadir Shah, turned the tables and conquered Afghanistan. Once again, Persian rule was thrown off by a Kandhar Pashtun, Ahmed Shah Abdali, who took the name 'Durrani' meaning 'Pearl of the Age' and gave it to his Abdali tribe. Thence arose the line of Durrani kings of Kandahar. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani conquered an empire that stretched from northern India to Persia. He planned and built the old city of Kandahar and ruled Afghanistan through a federal assembly of tribal chiefs, a form of rule that would last until the end of the monarchy in 1973. Ahmad Shah is said to have traveled to Samarkand where he obtained a holy relic, the cloak of Mohammed. The relic has been kept at Ahmad Shah Durrani's mausoleum in Kandahar which, since then, has been Afghanistan's holiest city. Ahmad Shah died in 1777. Kandahar's status as capital ended when Durrani's son, Timur Shah Durrani (1777-1799), moved the capital to Kabul. During the First Afghan War the British occupied Kandahar from 1839 to 1842. They occupied the city during the Second Afghan War from 1879 to 1881. The Soviets used Kandahar as a command base in during their occupation in 1979-1989. Kandahar was the first city occupied by the Taliban at the end of the civil war. In making it their religious and political capital, they were in effect reclaiming the Pashtun legacy of the Duranni kings.

PROFILE: Abdur Rahman (1844-1901) King of Afghanistan (1880-1901). The grand nephew of King Dost Mohammed, he turned against the reign of his uncle, Shere Ali and in 1869 was sent into exile. The British, faced with Shere Ali's alliance with Russia, occupied Afghanistan and defeated Shere Ali's army. Later, in 1880, the British placed Rahman on the throne. As Emir of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahamn supported Britain in the Great Game against Russia. Rahman successfully defended Kandahar and seized Herat from his cousin, Ayub Khan. Rahman was perhaps the first Afghan ruler to create a centralized administration and to turn the ring of trade routes into a road system. If he kept the country united and outwardly in a state of peace it was at the cost of the brutality, cruelty and occasional murder he used to silence opposition. The country suffered economically due to the isolationism Rahman saw as necessary to avoid domination by outside powers. Under him, Afghanitsan's borders were finallydetermined while he kept both Britain and Russia at arm' s length. But Afghans and Pashtuns in particular were embittered after Rahman allowed the British to draw the Durand line through Pashtun lands as the border with India. On the religious front, he broke the power of the local Mullahs throughout the country, took over their religious endowments, administered religious affairs though the state and entrusted the state with the enforcement of Sharia or religious law. His reign saw great stability and great backwardness.

CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY: The arrival of Islam in the 7th century provided the only unity in what was essentially a rough barren Asian hinterland made up of isolated tribes. Dire enmity and fast friendship developed as the means of survival which later became 'Pashutnwali', the code of the Pashtun people. Due to the difficulty of the terrain and lack of education, local power would be dominant and any centralized power would be almost impossible to maintain without extreme brutality. Until the eigheenth century, the region was only loosely ruled and from afar: by the Greeks, Persia, they Umayyads and the Abbasids. Islam would be the only cultural force defining the Afghan region. It was a strict and conservative brand, receptive to all new puritan movements entering the country even to the resent day- like the Deobandi movement if the 1980s. Afghanistan's first native rulers were the Turkic Ghaznavids of Ghazni but they were followed once more by foreigners: the Mongols, Tamerlane, the Moghuls of India. and the British. The first modern native rulers were the Durrani kings of Kandahar after whom there was a traceable descent of Afghan kings. Even then, anything resembling a nation was held together through violence.

EYE-WITNESS: "Their beauty is more than scenic, depending on light and landscape. On closer view, every tile every flower, every petal of mosaic contributes its genius to the whole. Even in ruin, such architerctire tells of a golden age...The few travelers who have visited Smarakand and Bokhara as well as the shrine of the Imam Riza (in Meshed), say that nothing in these towns can equal the last. If they are right, the Mosque of Gohar Shad must be the greatest surviving monument of the period, while the ruins of Herat show that there was once greater." Robert Byron, 'The Road to Oxiana.' (Penguin, 1992)

PRESENT SITUATION: The observance of strict Sharia law by the state is unlikely to change. Religion has been a traditional means of holding this conservative country together and as long as Afghanistan is in danger of collapse into disunity and anarchy, anyone trying to govern the country is unlikely to experiment with the liberalization of religion.

PLUS CA CHANGE: President Karzai, in trying to modernize his country while holding it together with a strict interpretation of Islam is in a situation similar to that of King Amanullah who rolled back his own religious and constitutional reforms to accommodate the militant religious leaders who threatened his reign.

CURIOSITY: It took the defeat of the Chinese by the Umayyad Muslims in 751 at the battle of Talas, Turkestan, to bring Central Asia (and hence Afghanistan) within the sphere of Islam.

Hugh Graham, Sept 24, 2007
In meetings at the UN over the weekend, Afghan President Karzai insisted that it was possible to negotiate with the Taliban because the majority of them are, in fact, “good” Taliban. If the problem is separating the good Taliban from the bad, there is, contrary to popular belief, a way that President Karzai could go about doing that.
It might help to recall a strange ceremony that took place in Kandahar back in 1996. With the Taliban approaching victory, their leader, Mullah Omar, stood near the tomb of the great Afghan king, Ahmad Shah Durrani and clothed himself in a relic said to be Mohammed's cloak- Omar's way of placing himself in the line of the Prophet. More important, however, is the fact that King Ahmad Shah, who had obtained the cloak, was an ethnic Pashtun and Mullah Omar might just as well have been identifying himself with the Pashtun kings of Afghanistan who once had their capital in Kandahar.
So closely were the Taliban identified with the Pashtuns that the 2002 invasion, in which the ethnically diverse Northern Alliance helped the U.S. unseat the Taliban, looked like an ethnic war with Tajik and Uzbek northerners defeating heartland Pashtuns. The northerners are now the United Front, the strongest party in the Karzai government. Formerly Karzai's bedrock, they are now challenging him.
With elections looming in 2009, President Karzai needs all the friends he can get and the most important, obviously, are the Pashtuns. And that's where the "moderate Taliban" are. The Pashtuns are Afghanstan's biggest single ethnic group at about forty percent, they occupy the entire south of the country, they include the poorest, most isolated and disenfranchised populations; while under-represented in the Afghan parliament, they hold an ancient claim as rulers of Afghanistan; and they supply the Taliban with almost all of its leadership and foot-soldiers.
The Taliban are enmeshed among the Pashtun people. One thing that binds both is Pashtunwali, a tribal code that governs hospitality, mutual aid, revenge, justice and so on. So the Taliban will never be uprooted from Afghan soil. They will always have to be death with. Even former US secretary of State Colin Powell has said this. So has one with more intimate knowledge: Pakistan's General Musharraff.
Pashtunwali also helps define democracy along traditional Islamic lines of consensus rather than through the adversarial, western party system. This is probably why one Taliban representative who got in touch with Karzai last week, insisted on an acceptance of "Islamic democracy" as a precondition for talks.
So the Taliban who might decide to negotiate are actually pushing a Pashtun cause. Pashtuns believe that they can all claim patrilineal descent from the four grandsons of Qais Abdur Rashid, the legendary founding father said to have brought Islam to Afghanistan in the seventh century. Pashtun claims were further entrenched in the eighteenth century when they became the core of the first Afghan nation and empire formed by King Ahmad Shah, the one who brought Mohammed's cloak to Kandahar. Ahmad Shah was from the Durrani, the Pashtun tribal confederation that provided most of the great Kandahari Afghan kings. So when the Taliban arrived in Kandahar in 1994 to end the civil war and restore order, they used their warm welcome in the Pashtun heartland to claim the Durrani dream of ruling Afghanistan again from Kandahar. In this, they sought the support of the Durrani Popolzai tribe, the direct descendants of Ahmad Shah Durrani.
Oddly, President Hamid Karzai is himself a Popolzai Pashtun of royal, Durrani lineage. For Pashtuns, however, he is a poor exemplar of Durrani tradition. He's too modern and too western. And he hasn't even the old tribal power to settle vendettas. When Karzai and US ambassador Zalmay Kalilzad vetoed the restoration of the Pashtun Afghan monarchy, Karzai lost a lot of support among the Durrani. A restoration of the monarchy, among other pro-Pashtun policies, might have drawn a lot of the Pashtuns away from the Taliban.
So often, when Kabul has failed the Pashtuns, the Taliban have been there to help. There is, for example, the split in the Pashtun cause between the blue-blooded Durrani tribal confederacy of the south and the more rugged Ghilzai Pashtuns of the east. In the past, the Durrani dominated the Ghilzai and as it happens, the Ghilzai have filled the ranks of the Taliban. So a unification and revival of the Pashtun cause could make the Taliban less important. The question remains: how do you find those Taliban who are, at heart, more Pashtun than Taliban?
One way is to look at a latent division among the Taliban. In the east, in the Pakistani tribal agencies of Waziristan, al Qaeda was often blamed for brutalizing the Taliban and directing the fight needlessly against Pakistan while the Taliban's real cause lay in Afghanistan. It's the Afghan Taliban who work alongside the Pashtun cause and it was they who brokered a truce with Pakistan and redirected the fight against Kabul where it belonged. This was seen as a challenge to the overall military authority of the 'Pakistan' Taliban who were aligned with al Qaeda. By 2006 a split was opening between the Pakistan 'al Qaeda' Taliban and the Afghan Taliban whose cause lay among the Pashtuns.
So should we be talking about 'Pashtun' Taliban rather than moderate Taliban? The ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, which helped the early Taliban, knows the ins and outs better than anyone. They realize that the best way to defang the Taliban is to support them not so much as 'moderates' but as disenfranchised, historical Pashtuns seeking political power in Kabul, rather than as west-hating terrorists. It's an approach that President Karzai seems to be trying. It's also an approach that NATO military forces, who almost never negotiate, might start thinking about.

The Iranians
2200 BC: the original or Indoeuropean migrants move from Bactria (present day Uzbekistan), down through Afghanistan into the Middle East.
1500 BC: Iranians of the Bactrian and 'Afghan' regions are at the source of a second great Indoeuropean migration.
670 BC: the Sakas, an Iranian sub-group form in Bactria and to the south in the Afghan region.
The Persians
560 BC- the Medes from an Empire in northern Persia, north of the Babylonian empire. The Median Empire includes the Afghan region.
400-300- conquests of the Median, Achaeminid Kings, Cyrus the Great and Darius I create the Persian empire. Darius II conquers the eastern and northeastern Afghan and Bactrian region. In Persia, the Afghan region is known as Drangiana, Satrapy XIV.
The Greek Seleucids
330 BC: Alexander the Great of Macedon, having defeated Darius II, enters Herat in western Afghanistan and in southern Afghanistan, founds a city in his own name, Kandahar. He has to contend with determined resistance by the Pashtuns.
330 BC- 200 AD- after his death, the Seleucid Greek successors to Alexander break away from the Antigonids and the Ptolemys and rule the Middle Eastern region. They barely manage to hang on to the extreme northeastern, Afghan region, known as Drangiana in the south and Bactria in the north.
-the break-up of the Seleucid Empire.
300 BC- Changragupta Maurya extends an empire of the central Ganges up to Kabul.
321-185 BC- the Mauryan empire- the subcontinent’s first state system which stretches from Afghanistan to southern India
220 BC- Greek colonists in Bactria begin to secede, forming the kingdom of Bactria which includes northern Afghanistan.
260 BC- (circa) under the influence of the great Indian emperor, Ashoka, Buddhism becomes the religion of the Afghan-Bactrian region.
The Yue Che/Kushan People
176 BC- the Chinese Yue-Chi are forced westward by the Xiongnu of western China and press on Bactria from the north, as the Sakas press from the northwest.
74 BC- the eastern Seleucid empire breaks up into the Parthian Empire in eastern Persia. Afghanistan is divided between Parthia in the south and the Yue Chi in the North.
67 AD- the Kushan people, having emerged from the Yue Chi, form in force on the northern edges of Afghanistan.
-the Kushans, caught between pressure from the Hsiang-Nu Chinese in the east and Persia in the west, invade Afghanistan and Sind before conquering part of northern India. The route southeast from central Asia to the Gangetic plain of northern India will be used for repeated invasions, the invaders always coming from the Afghan region and the north.
140 AD- the Kushan Empire extends into northern India. Afghanistan is divided between the Kushan Empire on the North and the Parthian empire to the south.
200-400 AD- the Kushan Empire breaks up into principalities.
Sassinid Persia.
484- the White Huns or Hephthalites from Central Asia invade Afghanistan and Persia.
500-630- the Sassinids rule Persia. Afghanistan is part of the Eastern Military Region, known as Kwarazm.
561- the Hephthalites are driven out of Afghanistan by the Sassinids and the Central Asian Turks.
-the Turks are the new opponents on the northeast of the Sassinid empire.
684- the Muslim conquest of Kandahar. The Umayyads attempt to extend religious, political and economic control into Central Asia.
751- with the defeat of the Chinese by the Umayyads at the battle of Talas in Turkestan, Central Asia comes within the sphere of Islam.
800- Western Afghanistan is the Khorasan region of the Abbasid Empire. Eastern Afghanistan, including Kabul and Kandahar is in the non-Islamic tribal region of the Indus. There is already a circular trade route anticipating the modern ring road from Kandahar to Kabul in the east to Balkh in the north and to Herat in the west.
1020- Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030), an East Afghanistan Turkic warlord and mercenary for the Abbasid Muslims, was granted autonomy, as 'Sultan' to form his own dynasty. He conquers an empire stretching from Kurdistan to the Indus.
-Mahmoud's capaigns were against the Shia Fatimids and non-Mislims like Buddhists and Hindu India. Had a reputation as a bloodthirsty tyrant.
1030- Mahmoud of Ghazni does of malaria.
The Mongols
1221- the Mongols of Gengis Khan conquer Muslim Kandahar and take Afghanistan before moving south and west.
1350- collapse of the Mongol Empire.
1399-1425- Tamerlane ('Timur the Lame'), an Uzbek descendant of Babur, invades from Samarkand and takes Afghanistan, going on to conquer and briefly to hold, much of the Middle East.
1425-1506- Descendants of Tamerlane rule an empire in Turkestan and Iran.
Babur and the Moghuls
1483- the Muslim conqueror Babur fails to establish a kingdom in his native Uzbekistan and instead takes Herat and Kandahar, making them the centre of his future empire.
1526- Babur, the first Moghul, invades India, takes the Gangetic plain and founds the Moghul Empire in India.
1526-1761- the Moghuls rule India.
1502-1720- the Safavid kings rule Persia.
1504- Kabul is annexed as a Moghul military and administrative area.
1545- Kandahar becomes a Moghul military and economic base.
1540-1545- Babur’s son Humayun loses control to the Afghan chieftan Sher Shah.
1546- battle of Panipat: Humayun’s son Akbar the Great recovers the area from the Afghans, extending it to Deccan.
1700-1800- the British consolidate their trading power in India through the East India company, taking advantage of the weakened Aurangzeb and make India a British colony.
1704- the Persians, in an attempt to settle a tribal war between the Abdali (Durrani) and the Ghilzai Pashtuns sent a Georgian, Gurgin, to govern Kandahar.
1709- Mirwais Kahn Hotak, Pashtun rallies the Afghan Ghilzais of Kandahar against the Persian Safavids and defeats them. He kills Gurgin, the Persian governor of Kandahar and becomes the city's mayor.
1715- Death of Mirwais.
1720-22- Pashtun Afghans of the Kandahar region under Mahmud Hotak, son of Mirwais, invade and overthrow the Persian Safavids under Shah Hussein. Mir Mahmud Hotak declares himself Shah in Isfahan.
1724- Mahmud Hotak dies insane.
1729- Nadir Shah of Persia expels the Hotaki Afghans.
1738- Nadir Shah invades Afghanistan and northern India, his empire lasting only until his assassination in 1747.
The Durrani Empire
1747- Ahmad Shah (of the Saddozai family, Abdali clan) commander of Nadir's body guard, takes the name Durrani, meaning 'Pearl of the Age' and establishes the Durrani dynasty of Afghanistan, unites varied tribes in southern Afghanistan around their common link: the Pashtun language. He invades the Gangetic plain of India conquering and weakening the last Moghul emperor Aurangzeb. The modern Afghan nation begins to take shape. His empire extends from near the Caspian Sea to India.
1761- Ahmad Shah defeats the Marathas of India at Panipat.
-Ahmad rules Afghanistan through a federal assembly of tribal chiefs, a form of rule that last until the end of the monarchy in 1973.
1777- death of Ahmad Shah Durrani.
1777-1799- Timur Shah, son of Ahmad, moves the Durrani capital from Kandahar to Kabul. The Durrani empire weakens under Timur and under Timur's son, Zaman.
1826-1863- Afhganistan revives under a Pashtun chieftain of the Barakzai clan , Dost Mohammed. The modern state of Afghanistan begins to take shape.
The British.
1830s- to protect her interests in India from the new Russian empire to the north, Britain uses diplomacy and espionage to keep Afghanistan as a friendly buffer state between India and Russia.
1838- After Shah Mahmud of Kabul favours his Russian ambassador while imprisoning the British ambassador, Britain sends a force from India and invades Kabul.
1847- After finding it too difficult to hold Afghanistan in the face of the Pashtuns, British forces retreat with heavy losses to Jalalabad, before retreating back to India.
1876- Baluchistan becomes a British protectorate.
1878-1880- Second Afghan War- after the struggle, Britain fails to control the country and withdraws its forces.
1879- despite the withdrawal of British forces, Afghanistan forced to concede theoretical sovereignty to the British.
Abdur Rahman
1880-1901- Abdur Rahman, Emir of Afghanistan rules Afghanistan with British approval. A draconian, but effective ruler, he creates the country's first, highly centralized state.
1893- the Durand line forms the limit of British territorial expansion into the Pashtun territories of Afghanistan. The Pashtun region, which had once defined Afghanistan, is split by the new boundary with Afghanistan. Western Pakistan is ceded to British India.
1901-1919- King Habibullah
1907- Britain and Russia work out a treaty defining separate spheres in influence in Persia with a British sphere of influence in Afghanistan.
1919- King Habibullah is assassinated. He is succeeded by his son, Amanullah.

King Amanullah
1919- the Third Afghan War. Pashtun tribes under Ananullah, on both sides of the Durand line, defeat the British. The British concede nationhood to Afghanistan by the Treaty of Kapubl. Amanullah attempts westernizing reforms.
1926. Amanullah is made king.
1929- King Amanullah, depending too much on tribes instead of an army, is forced to abdicate. He is succeeded briefly by Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah rolls back Amanullah's liberalizing reforms but succeeds in uniting Afghanistan despite tribal rebellions.
1933- Nadir Shah is assassinated as a result of a tribal dispute.
King Zahir Shah
1933- Nadir Shah is succeeded by his son, Zahir Shah.
1947- Britain agrees to the formation of an independent Pakistan, separate from India, with the Durand line remaining as the border between the two nations. The border still cuts through the region of the Pashtun people- despite Afghan claims on the entire Pashtun region, which includes much of the Baluchistan region of western Pakistan.
-Zahir Shah claims the Pathan (east Pashtun) state from Pakistan. Meanwhile, he extracts support from both the US and the Soviet Union.
1964- King Zahir Shah institutes a constitutional monarchy.
1965- Afghanistan holds its first elections.
The Afghan Republic.
1973- Zahir Shah is overthrown by his own Prime Minister, General Mohammed Daoud. Khan Declares himself president. He begins an unpopular policy of nationalization of industry.
1978- 28 April. The Kalq, (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council) a radical communist group overthrows Daoud and assassinates him.
The Soviet Invasion
1979- President Babrak Kemal emerges from in-fighting. Radical anti-Muslim Marixsts threaten to overthrow Kemal. At Kemal's request, the Soviet Union Invades Afghanistan.
1979-1989- the Afghan Mujehadeen mount powerful resistance against Soviet occupying forces.
1987- the Soviets install Afghan Communist president, Najibullah.
1989- the Soviet Occupation ends in defeat. Civil war begin among Afghan mujehadeen factions.
1992- President Najibullah resigns.
The Taliban.
1993- the Taliban, an ultra-Islamist religious student organization, intended to bring order to the anarchy in Afghanistan, is formed by Pakistani intelligence.
1994 -the Taliban cross into Afghanistan and take Kandahar
1996- the Taliban are victorious in the civil war and begin strict rule according to Shariah law. They are fully supported by Pakistan.
-Najibullah is murdered by the Taliban.
1997- former Saudi Mujehadeen leader Osama Bin Laden founds al Qaeda. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda become guests of the Taliban.
1999- the Taliban control most of the country.
9/11 and the US Invasion.
2001- Al Qaeda terrorists fly passenger jets into the twin towers in New York, killing 2,900 Americans.
2001-2002- US forces invade Afghanistan to rid the country of Al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors. The Americans link up with the 'Northern Alliance', former Mujehadeen of northern Afghanistan and kill or expel Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda forces.
2002- a UN-approved interim government under President Hamid Karzai is approved by tribal leaders.
2003- Western countries, under the United Nations pursue a program of democratization and reconstruction. Hamid karzai becomes Afghanistan's first president.
The Resurgence of the Taliban.
2005- resurgent Taliban return to Afghanistan from refuges along the mountainous Pakistan border.
2005- NATO forces begin to engage the Taliban in the west and US forces fight the re-emergent Taliban and Al Qaeda in the eastern Afghanistan. Both engage in programs to reconstruct the Afghan economy.
2005- September- Hamid Karzai is re-elected president of Afghanistan.
2006- July- NATO combat forces, mostly British and Canadian, take over from US command and with US support launch Operation Mountain Thrust to the clear the Taliban from southern Afghanistan.
2006- August-September- Canadian forces lead Operation Medusa, clearing the Taliban from the Panjwai district only 30 km from Kandahar, where the Canadians are based.
2006 December- January 2007- Canadians launch operation Falcon's Summit, clearing the Taliban, once again, from Kandahar.
2007- August- joint Loya Jirga held by Pakistan and Afghanistan in Kabul. The two nations agree to increased and coordinated efforts against the Taliban in the border regions.
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